What Does the Voice Mean to You?

April 4, 2019

As a 17-year-old from a just-okay public high school in rural California, in fall 1990 I found Georgetown deeply intimidating. I felt like an impostor among polished classmates from prep schools and missed the hometown I’d eagerly fled. Thank god I found the Voice.

There were all the cynical, liberal, sarcastic fellow students I had longed to meet: my people. At the Voice, everyone viewed the reigning university establishment with a jaundiced eye. To get in, two things mattered. First, you had to be willing to postpone all your schoolwork until R.E.M.’s “I Am Superman” played in triumph and the pages were headed to the printer. Second, and more important, the writing you pinned up on the office bulletin board had to be decent. If it was bad, the brutal collective editing process would quickly set you straight; if it was good, you could still expect skepticism. One cover story I wrote, a slice-of-life piece on Dupont Circle’s weird Embassy Chevron station (no longer in business), used the conceit of dividing the story into sections by directions: north, south, east, west. One friend wrote: “Is this idea original? If so, it’s very good.” I swear it was, and I’m still proud to say that story, along with a couple of other stories, won me a Bunn Award.

I was an English and history double major, but I learned more about writing at the Voice than anywhere else, in school or my subsequent career as a writer. I still keep in mind a Voice colleague’s dictum about feature writing—“quotes are like treats for the reader!”—and I got the best training possible in writing quickly, cleanly, and to word count, plus a side course in journalistic ethics, some rules some of which rules we learned by breaking.

After Georgetown, I went to graduate school and got a PhD in English, but I missed the chase of finding stories and using my own, well, voice. I left academia and went back to what I loved best from college: writing and editing. I’ve been a freelance writer for more than 15 years and am now the restaurant critic for the Sacramento Bee. I’ve written for national magazines and am writing my first book. But I’ve never found a place where fine points of editing were more fiercely argued or acceptance more hard won as at the Voice.  

Kate Washington (COL ’94) was Managing Editor – Production in Fall 1993

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