The Georgetown University Library Associates collaborated with the English department to present “Georgetown Writes,” the first in a series of panels featuring alumni discussing their experiences in the literary, film and magazine worlds, on Tuesday in Lohrfink Auditorium.
The panel was composed of University of North Carolina School of the Arts Chancellor Lindsay Bierman (CAS ’87), Harvard University screenwriting professor Mark Poirier (CAS ’91) and Christopher Reich (SFS ’83), who is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Numbered Account.” University Librarian Artemis G. Kirk moderated the discussion.
The discussion began as each writer addressed the challenges that they faced in their specific fields.
Reich started producing novels after giving up an unsuccessful career in stock brokering and investment banking.
“When I was at Georgetown I would have never ever dreamt that I was going to end up as a novelist,” Reich said. “I was in the SFS studying economics, doing my best to get through. … I’ve written ten books and I’m either proud or ashamed to say I never took one English class in college.”
Poirier also discovered his interest in writing later on, switching from the pre-med track to English during his junior year.
“People learn as much about writing in a physics class … as you can in a writing class,” Poirier said. “At Georgetown you get a broad liberal education and I can’t think of better preparation for a writer than that.”
Regardless of their somewhat untraditional paths to their current careers, all three professionals spoke about their deep and lifelong love of reading.
“I am a huge believer in learning,” Reich said. “My fondest memories are of being on the fifth floor of Lauinger looking out over the leaves and just reading a book for four hours at a time. … The reason I can write the kind of books I have is because I learned so much here.”
When questioned by the audience about how the digital age will influence the publishing industry, Bierman expressed his belief that printed books will continue to be prevalent, even in a society that is reliant on technology.
“Print is a lean back experience, digital is a lean forward experience,” Bierman said. “There is a different mindset and I think that that lean back experience is always going to be with us. … What we discovered through our research is that people just want both. They want to be able to have the convenience of looking up a recipe on their tablet in the kitchen but it would actually enhance the likelihood that they would renew their subscription if they could have the tablet and the print addition both.”
The writers also shared their advice and experience with the aspiring writers in the crowd. Bierman provided tips for two obstacles he said he often faces: writer’s block and procrastination.
“I think that discipline is the hardest thing of all to maintain,” Bierman said. “You have to really separate yourself from the world in a very deliberate way in order to get into that state of flow and to avoid the kinds of distractions that all of us have today. That’s what creates great art.”
Reich and Poirier said they felt fortunate to create and share stories as a way to make a living and spoke to the pleasure they found in seeking out a story as well as their individual processes and techniques.
“For me, my great joy in writing is the two or three months a year I have where I can go around the world and research on whatever story I’m doing and get out there and pretend I’m some kind of investigative journalist,” Reich said. “The hard part is when you come back and open your door and look at that desk and say ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be there for the next nine months,’ but that’s how you earn a living.”
Poirier said that he loves to travel in search of stories, and often spends the day listening to the conversations of strangers.
“I think going to places is important because you will notice details you can’t see online.” Poirier said. “I do a lot of reading and observing. I’m the one on the subway who misses his stop because he’s fascinated by these two teenage girls who are talking about where they’re going to score some meth.”
Kate Randazzo (SFS ’17) attended the event and said that she enjoyed hearing a variety of perspectives from professionals in the field.
“I really thought the panel was effective at having a diverse group of voices; all the writers were coming from different places and because of that they all had different advice to offer,” Randazzo said. “I liked the variety of perspectives.”
Elizabeth Biener (SFS ’17) said that although she enjoyed the event, she wished there would have been a speaker present who had studied to be a writer while at Georgetown.
“One perspective that I think was lacking is the person at Georgetown that always wants to be a writer,” Biener said.“All three panelists didn’t think they would be a writer and then became one.”