Place of Birth:
Amherst College, BA, English; Columbia University, MA, International Affairs
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I was captivated by everything about the place: the view from Memorial Hill, small class sizes, snowy winters, top-notch professors, Bart's Ice Cream, and a campus filled with smart, motivated, and passionate people.
Most memorable or most influential class at Amherst:
Biology, freshman year: I quickly learned that dissection was not my forte and went running as fast I could to the English department, where I spent four wonderful years.
Most memorable or most influential professor:
I will always treasure the classes I took with Stanley Rabinowitz. He introduced me to the wonders of Russian lit and his passion for reading and writing invigorated my own.
As a longtime Newsweek writer, I had the great privilege of reporting on a wide range of topics, mostly in the fields of medicine and science. I always found myself drawn to the inner workings of the brain and the mysteries of the mind. Such fascinating terrain filled with conundrums, controversies and infinite potential. I was able to explore all of this and more while researching my book: the evolution of mental health science, the relationship of brain to behavior, the connection between mind and inspiration. And I got to delve into history and biography, too. What could be better?
Awards and Prizes:
Awards include: National Magazine Award Finalist (with a team of Newsweek writers) for Newsweek cover package, "AIDS at 25;" Front Page Award, Newswomen's Club of New York for "Girl or Boy? The New Science of Sex Selection." Fellowships include: Casey Fellowship at the Journalism Center on Children & Families; Boot Camp fellowship at the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT; and John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.
I don't have a single favorite (too many to choose from!), but here's one that I will always love for its writing, humor and spot-on depiction of life at a news magazine: Floater, by Calvin Trillin.
To name just a few: Trillin, Jane Austen, Willa Cather, John McPhee, Oliver Sacks, Louisa May Alcott, Toni Morrison, Charlotte Bronte, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Figure out a way to live with the insecurities and doubts--there will be many--and believe steadfastly in the power of edits and revisions. Do not compare yourself to other writers. Admire them, study them, read them--but rely on yourself. Keep a notebook and pencil next to your bed to capture wandering thoughts and nighttime brainstorms. Start small: one sentence, then another. Explore, experiment, let your voice free.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author:
As a kid, I remember "reading" New Yorkers--mostly just the cartoons--as I dreamed about becoming a writer. I wrote sentences in my head as I fell asleep at night, scribbled in a journal, and loved the crinkle of plastic covers on library books. At Amherst, I wrote occasional stories for the Amherst Student, but didn't pursue journalism seriously until I got to graduate school at Columbia, where I took courses at the Journalism school and edited a student magazine at the School of International and Public Affairs. A summer internship writing for The Jakarta Post in Indonesia got me hooked. My first story was about archaeologists and villagers battling over bricks at an historic site: the archaeologists wanted to preserve the site; the villagers wanted to sell the bricks to survive. No story, I quickly learned, was ever black and white. After grad school graduation, I landed a job at Newsweek as a researcher and was lucky enough to get sent out to the bureaus--first to Chicago, then to Boston--and to move up the ranks to writer. In 2011, I set out on my own to freelance, which led me, happily, to the publication of my new book.