KU WOMEN DISTINCTION
Writer, M.A., English, KU; B.S.W., School of Social Welfare, KU
What led you to your area of study/field of interest?
I started writing after I got my degree in social work, when I was a fifth year exchange student at the University of Malta. It's a long story. Maybe it'll be Novel #3. But basically, I tried to push myself to be other things for a long time. I tried to be a doctor, and then a social worker. I wanted to do something that could help people, and writing seemed self indulgent. It probably is, but it's what I love to do and what I'm good at, and after a while, I got tired of suppressing the desire to write. I still admire doctors and social workers for fighting the good fight, but I'm better at writing than I ever would have been at medicine or social work. I decided it's important to follow your talents and passions, even if they aren't what you might choose.
What honor, achievement or accomplishment is most meaningful to you? Why?
I think winning the Fellowship at Phillips Exeter allowed me to think of myself as a writer. I knew I had the ambition and work ethic to finish the novel if I had the time, and the Fellowship allowed me a year free of financial worries to do just that. It also gave me confidence. Exeter chooses the Bennett Fellow every year by holding a nation-wide writing contest, so I felt good that my fledgling talent had been validated by people in New Hampshire who didn't know me. I can't describe how good it felt to answer the phone and hear a voice on the other end telling me that I won, and that I had the opportunity to spend a year on my dream. I felt as if I had won the lottery, only better, because I won though hard work, not luck.
Who has been influential or had a significant impact on your life?
My favorite professor from the School of Social Welfare, Alice Lieberman, was always supportive of my goals, even when they moved away from social work. She's passionate about her teaching and social issues, and though I ended up not working in the social work field directly, I think she did inspire me to be passionate about whatever I did for a living, which ended up being writing.
Carolyn Doty, my writing teacher at KU, was so good at giving me gentle criticism when I first started writing. She let me know how I could improve, but when I look back at my early attempts at writing, I see that she certainly could have worded her critiques of my work more harshly. She was wonderful about giving me just enough praise to keep my confidence up while I was working to improve.
Why do you believe it is important to recognize women for their accomplishments?
When I won the Fellowship at Exeter, I had a wonderful friend from KU throw a surprise send off party for me. I was delighted to walk in and see all my good friends under a banner that read 'CONGRATULATIONS!' When I thanked my friend for organizing the party and asked her what made her do it, she said she'd thrown more than a few bridal and baby showers for friends, and she often wondered why women didn't throw showers for each other for all kinds of achievements. Now that I have a baby daughter, I certainly see why people say 'Congratulations!' to new mothers; I am so happy to see and hold my daughter every day. So I'm not saying we should get rid of bridal and baby showers, but I'd like to attend a 'promotion shower' or a 'just-made-tenure shower' or a 'you got into graduate school shower' every now and then as well. (And really, it seems like new grad students need household gifts just as much as new brides.) Weddings and babies are great, but there are other moments to celebrate in a woman's life.
What is a most favorite/least favorite memory as a student?
I was living in New England when my novel sold, and I immediately started a campaign to get my boyfriend to move back to Lawrence with me. I love Lawrence more than any other town I've ever lived in, and I've lived in eight states and two foreign countries. I love the changing seasons and the wide, unobstructed sky. And I associate Lawrence with being in college and graduate school and all the amazing people I met during those times. I strongly believe college isn't for everyone; there are other roads to success. But college was definitely for me. I thrived on being exposed to so many different kinds of people and ideas. I wasn't the best student in high school, but when I got to K.U., I thought, 'I have a fresh start here. I should really try academically and see how I do.' Intellectual curiosity bloomed late in me, but at least it bloomed: I signed up for French and Peoples of Africa and Chemistry 184 and actually read the books this time and found that learning, though! it could be difficult, ultimately made life more satisfying. I also found the value of pushing myself to finish assignments and get work turned in on time. That's come in handy as a writer. I don't remember most of the equations or laws I learned in the chemistry courses, but I do remember the discipline I needed to study for the exams, and it's really the same discipline I use now to finish a novel or even a scene.
Another thing I really enjoyed about college was the dorm. I know you're supposed to hate the dorm, but I thought living in the dorm was the greatest thing in the world until maybe my senior year, when I finally started to get sick of it. My sophomore year, I lived in McCullom, which has a lot of international students - I thought it was wonderful that I would hear three different languages in the elevator just going down to breakfast in the morning. My junior year, I was an R.A. in Hashinger, which was full of artists and musicians. I made many of the friends I still have today in those buildings. I don't think I'd like to live in a dorm now; in fact, I'm pretty sure it would make me miserable. But I'm often nostalgic for those days of hanging out in the lobby and interacting with so many kinds of people. I worked the front desks for three years, so I got to talk to almost everybody.
I spent a lot of time walking when I was at KU. I never took the bus; I walked from the dorms to campus and back several times a day, listening to music on my headphones and being dreamy. I thought I was wasting time, but some of the situations and ideas I was dreaming about then show up in my work now.
What is your definition of success?
Having a job that you care about.
The Emily Taylor