Author and journalist Nora Zelevansky SC ’99 returned to Scripps College this Tuesday, Oct. 11, as a part of the college’s Tuesday Noon Series, a series of thought-provoking speakers presented by the Office of Public Events and Community Programs.
Zelevansky has written numerous articles for Elle, The Los Angeles Times, T Magazine, Town and Country, and Vanity Fair, as well as two novels: Semi-charmed Life and Will You Won’t You Want Me? the latter of which was published in 2016. Having graduated from Scripps in 1999, Zelevansky spoke candidly with students about how her undergraduate experience influenced her career in freelance writing, as well as to her experiences navigating the field.
Zelevansky began by admitting she initially was unsure as to whether or not she wanted to be a writer. She worked briefly in the film industry and politics after leaving Scripps, but both fields left her feeling discontent with her work. At a time when she was out of a job, she began developing personal essays, which led her to take a class at UCLA and which later influenced her to study journalism.
A yoga magazine was the first publication to feature her work. “I was just shameless…I had to harass the editor for that yoga magazine. She had a million other things on her plate, and it wasn’t important that I be the person to write the story. So, I harassed her,” she described. “And then I just reached out to every single human being I could think of that would know anybody in any type of publishing venture.”
The passionate and somewhat renegade perspective with which Zelevansky views her freelance writing—influenced both by her Scripps education and experiences working in film and politics—was consistent throughout her responses to students.
Unlike many writers, Zelevansky never ended up writing for one publication or in one particular niche; she states that her Scripps education allowed her to “explore many different arenas,” and taught her “the ability to look at the world and not just accept things as the status quo, but to question them.” Her success as a freelance writer in a variety of different topics is a testament to her ability to do so.
Zelevansky’s most recent novel Will You Won’t You Want Me? tells the tale of a young woman, Marjorie Blum, who peaked during her high school years in New York City, but, as stated in the first line of the novel, “it had been a decade since anyone cared.” Her prose focuses on how Marjorie struggles to define herself in the context of a world that is outside of her control.
Zelevansky, who is from New York, based the text on the experiences of some of her high school friends, many of whom had difficulty adjusting to college and adulthood after high school graduation. These experiences prompted her to ask: “How far do you have to stray from your comfort zone to evolve?”
That’s the question Will You Won’t You Want Me? seeks to answer.
Though Zelevansky stated that she was by no means “Marjorie Blum” in high school, the book is an exploration of what would have happened “if [her] life had gone the other way.” For her, going to college in California was how she learned to push herself outside of her comfort zone.
Overall, Zelevansky’s talk explained how a liberal arts education teaches them to pursue their creative passions. Speaking to the advantages of a women’s college specifically, Zelevansky said, “The female relationships—in terms of the support professionally and personally—are the most valuable thing I can talk about having come from Scripps. Instead of competing, you’re helping each other.”
In these ways, Scripps provided Zelevansky with both the support system, and the analytical skills, to successfully navigate the freelance writing market. She is currently working on her third novel, and lives with her husband and two-year-old daughter in Brooklyn.