Jean Hanff Korelitz, Book the Writer, Woman Entrepreneur
Jean was introduced to me from a long time reader of this blog. Not surprising I heard from someone else who knows Jean as she must have said she was meeting with me to her. As a big book reader I was really interested to hear about Book the Writer, Jean's entrepreneurial venture. Not so sure that writers think of themselves as entrepreneurs but there is no doubt in my mind that they are.
Jean grew up in NYC on the Upper East Side. She described herself as someone with the soul of a villager trapped on the UES. Her mother was a family therapist and retired in 2002. Her father is still working at a gastroenterologist. At one point of his career he was the Chief in his field at Lenox Hill Hospital.
After graduating high school Jean went to Dartmouth with visions of being a poet. During her junior year she spent one semester at Oxford in a program that was run by Northern Illinois University. In those days there was no internet to figure out the programs. You had to do some serious research. She spent the other semester at Harvard in a program called visiting undergraduates. Always writing and reading as an English major.
After graduating at Dartmouth she went immediately to Cambridge. At Cambridge she got her second BA which turns into a masters. She did not want to do a phD as Jean never had any intention of being an academic. So she tooks those two years at Cambridge to read and write. She also met her husband, the poet. She had gone to London to hear him speak and the rest if history. It was 1985. She told her parents that she was getting married and moving to Belfast. Her husband was a poet and a producer for the BBC and an academic. After living there for only a few months they returned to Cambridge and then he got a call offering him a part-time job at Princeton University and Columbia University called for the same thing. It was time to move.
Jean says that when she came back to the states it was the only time in her life she had a real job. Jean worked for the editor and chief of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. It was the time that Presumed Innocent and Bonfire of the Vanities was top on the best sellers list. Then her husband was awarded a fellowship at Berkley and she followed him. He was getting jobs and she was writing novels that nobody was publishing. Six months in Berkley and then off to Amherst for two years. She loved Amherst and would have stayed there for years. Then Princeton called with a tenure track. Settling down in Princeton was not high on her list but they moved and spent twenty years there.
Jean had a daughter in 1982 and had two novels under her belt that had been rejected. She fully intended to rewrite those novels and so she hired someone to help take care of her daughter. Jean refers to that as the first day of her life that she committed to being a real writer. She figured now she had to write something that must be published.
Jean wrote something that was not expected a legal thriller called A Jury of Her Peers. The book came out in 1996. She was all of a sudden pegged as a legal thriller write which is something she had no interest in. So Jean following up and wrote a literary novel called Sabbathday River (named after a river in Maine) which was bought by her ex-boss at GSF. Neither of the two books did great and GSF rejected doing another book with her.
Around this time Jean had another child even though in her head she always thought she would only have one. Jean told me that a friend of hers at Princeton lost her 5 year old child in an accident and after that there was a baby boom at Princeton.
Her next book she wrote after 9/11. She wanted to write a book about good people. Although it is not a personal novel it is a book where she loves each character. It is based on the opera. The book is called The White Rose. It was picked up by Miramax.
When Jean was at Princeton she became involved with an organization that works with families that are homeless or are about to become homeless. She would help place them in social programs to help move their lives forward. As a fundraiser she created a meet the author book group. That turned into a twelve year group where 70 authors came to talk with them. It was fun and the people in the group felt like they were the luckiest people in the world.
In 2006 she took a job at Princeton working in the admissions department. She was honest that she was doing this for research on a book. She read the applications for the department as a volunteer. With that research she wrote the book Admission that was made into a movie starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. After that accomplishment she wrote another book called You Should Have Known that comes out on March 18th.
Last July the family moved to NYC. Jean wanted to continue the book club but thought perhaps she could do it on a bigger scale. She could be the facilitator. People in NYC are used to paying for things that they want. So she launched BooktheWriter.com Personally I love this idea. Jean does not think of herself as an entrepreneur as she is in the process of writing another novel but the truth is everything she has done up to this point has been entrepreneurial. She admits she is not a self-promoter and her skin crawls just thinking about that. I love this idea. There are so many book clubs in NYC. Wouldn't it be great if you could have the author come and discuss the book? BTW, Jean always thought she would be a poet not a novelist and she did put out that one book of poems, The Properties of Breath including a childrens book, Interference Powder.