"Commencement" author J. Courtney Sullivan

J. Courtney Sullivan graduates from chick lit with 'Commencement'


"Commencement" author J. Courtney Sullivan

The anthology, tentatively titled “Click” (“as in the ‘click moment,’ which is a second wave term”) is crafted of replies from self-identified feminists (“They’re all in their twenties, thirties, and a few are in their teens”) when asked about the event, person, book or movie that “flipped a switch” in their thinking. “The topics are so good. They range from one girl who learned from watching ‘Saved by the Bell’ that she wanted to be a feminist, to one girl who learned by being in the marching band and always wanting to play tuba, and they wanted her to play something smaller and more elegant and ladylike.”

Aside from her own writing and her continued work at The New York Times, Sullivan finds time to be involved in non-profit work. She is on the advisory board of Girls Write Now, an organization that pairs up professional women writers from the New York area with girls to mentor from within the New York public school system. “It’s an amazing program,” says Sullivan. “It’s just incredible. They have such confidence and they’re so empowered by the stuff that they write, and they have fun.” She also backs GEMS, a group in Harlem that helps girls get out of underage sex work.

“It’s really difficult, I think,” says Sullivan honestly. “I just interviewed Gloria Steinem for the Smith alumni magazine, which was awesome, and I was asking her something that was obviously trying to work out my own issues, saying something about, you know, sometimes it just feels like too much. Like there are just too many things, it’s just insurmountable, there aren’t enough of us fighting this fight, what are you supposed to do about that? And she kind of said, ‘that’s not your concern. Just do the one thing you can do, and do it, you know? Don’t make any excuses about it. Just do that thing.’ When you think about what’s happening to women abroad and then you go up to Rachel Lloyd at GEMS, which is like three stops up on the A train, and you see what’s happening right here, it can be very overwhelming. But people like Rachel Lloyd are just doing their thing. And they’re making such a huge difference in the world. Even if no one’s ever heard of them, they’re making a huge difference, you know? And now I’m back on my soapbox.”

With a sparkling debut novel behind her and several projects in the works, Sullivan is nothing less than a fresh, credible and unafraid new voice in the literary world, and I think her soapbox is just where I like her best.

J. Courtney Sullivan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Allure, Men’s Vogue, the New York Observer, and in the essay anthology The Secret Currency of Love. She is a graduate of Smith College, lives in Brooklyn, and works in the editorial department of The New York Times.


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