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Writing Center Hosts NYT Journalist Elisabeth Egan

Ali Amarain/ Villanovan Photography
The Writing Center hosted a New York Times journalist for an event last week.

While attending a graduate school friend’s birthday party in New York City, Writing Center Director Mary Beth Simmons made a serendipitous new connection: New York Times writer and book editor Elisabeth Egan.

Simmons described their first conversation as “fangirling” over a piece by Egan about Elin Hilderbrand, the Nantucket novelist revered as “the queen of beach reads.” Simmons and Egan created an instant affinity and soon began coordinating for Egan to visit Villanova to speak on her experience in the journalism and publishing industries.

The plans came to fruition at an event that took place last Thursday, Sept. 28, at 4 p.m. in Falvey 205. Egan’s talk was co-hosted by the University’s Writing Center and Writing and Rhetoric Program.

Egan commenced her time at the podium by explaining her “circuitous” career trajectory.

A graduate of Middlebury College with a degree in English, Egan has engaged in a variety of professions, from service jobs to textbook publishing to Page-A-Day calendar editing. These also included an unsatisfying 11 months at Amazon’s publishing imprint in New York City, which inspired the topic of her 2015 novel, A Window Opens.

“I’m truly not exaggerating when I tell you that those jobs prepared me so much better for what I do today than any of the jobs in my so-called field,” Egan said. “Internships are great, but when I’m interviewing, I want to know if you’ve ever waited tables, because that teaches you how to work with people.”

Eventually landing as the books editor of Glamour Magazine, Egan spent a decade freelancing for the New York Times’ “Book Review” before moving to the New York Times full-time four years ago. 

Egan describes her current job as a hybrid of writing and editing. One of her primary tasks is penning a weekly column, “Inside the List,” which tells the stories behind recent bestselling novels. Egan also composes profiles of celebrity authors that interest her, such as singer Alicia Keys, Friends star Matthew Perry and Harry Potter actor Tom Felton. A column about the legacy of children’s author Beverly Cleary even resulted in a heartfelt email from Cleary’s own daughter.

Although her work focuses primarily on books and publishing, Egan emphasized qualities she discovered in herself that every aspiring journalist must possess.

“Whether you’re doing political coverage or book reviews, you need curiosity and an insatiable desire to hear people’s stories,” Egan said. “It’s humbling and fun to realize how far and wide your pieces go.”

Transitioning to the second part of her job as a book editor, Egan provided the audience with her best advice for producing more compelling writing: to read more.

“If you think you want to be a writer or have any career related to books or words, read widely,” Egan said. “I realized there is no ‘required reading.’ It’s what you like, what moves you, speaks to you and possibly inspires you to write.”

Egan sprinkled her speech with writing advice she has come across throughout her career, including a French proverb and quotes by W.B. Yeats and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She found a particularly interesting quote from bestselling author Ann Napolitano: “Everyone walks through the world wearing a sticky vest.” Egan used the metaphor to encourage young writers to pay attention to what “sticks” with them, or their unique interests and passions, for inspiration.

“It’s about paying attention to humanity, exposing yourself to different things and being open in the world,” Egan said.

The talk gathered a full audience, and Egan saved time following the conclusion of the speech for those in attendance to ask questions.

Simmons was pleased with both the turnout to the event and the wisdom that Egan passed on as a professional journalist and book editor.

“I thought it was a very enthusiastic crowd, and I liked the mix of students and faculty,” Simmons said. “It was just good energy in the room all-around, and easily one of the top speakers I’ve brought to campus.”

One of Egan’s main goals for the talk was to emphasize that writing is a life skill necessary for success in any 21st-century profession.

“I was hoping to impress upon students in all fields, not just ones who want to have a career in writing,” Egan said.

Egan’s message aligned with the mission of both the Writing Center and the Writing and Rhetoric Program, an interdisciplinary program that takes the form of either a concentration or a minor. The program hosts events throughout the semester, often partnering with other academic departments.

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Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis, Co-Sports Editor
Katie Lewis is a sophomore from Miami, FL in her first year as Co-Sports Editor in 2024. From covering games to writing features and profiles, she loves to find the story behind Villanova sports. Pursuing her enthusiasm for writing and journalism in her studies at Villanova, Katie is double-majoring in English and Communication with concentrations in Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric. When Katie isn’t at Holy Grounds working on her next article, she enjoys playing tennis with Villanova’s club team.
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