Jessica Cohen ’03 had no idea that her account of what it was like to be a potential egg donor would become a feature story in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. After responding to an ad in the Yale Daily News by a couple seeking an attractive, Ivy League-educated, Jewish egg donor — at least 5’5″ tall with a minimum score of 1500 on the SATs — Cohen underwent a bizarre selection process to become the giver of an unfertilized egg.
“I fit all the criteria except the SAT score,” she wrote.
In some respects, it may be easier to give a piece of yourself to prospective parents than it is to give a piece of your prose to a national magazine.
To get published, Yalies say, it takes persistence, an entrepreneurial spirit, and sometimes just pure luck.
Cohen’s desire to donate an egg was mostly motivated by the sum of money the couple promised to pay the chosen female — a handsome $25,000.
Although she was ultimately rejected, Cohen did walk away with an intriguing story, which she recounted in an issue of student publication The New Journal. She also submitted it to the Atlantic Monthly’s student essay-writing competition, where it took first prize in the non-fiction category.
Several weeks later, they bought the rights to the article, and it ran in the December issue.
Cohen said one of the highlights of being published was hearing from a large number of people — many of whom were aspiring authors and journalists — who were delighted to see a young, unseasoned writer appear in a major magazine.
“I think the main lesson I learned from the experience is that people may always be interested [in your work],” she said. “Write it, edit it, and then send it around — you never know who might buy it and publish it.”
As a Yale undergrad, Michael Johnston ’97 LAW ’03 developed an intense fascination with the culture and literature of the American South. When he was afforded the unique opportunity to teach at a high school in rural Mississippi after his senior year, he knew it would be a meaningful adventure.
Johnston’s two-year Teach for America experience became the subject of a nonfiction book entitled In the Deep Heart’s Core (which was published in September). Living and working in the heart of the Deep South, Johnston saw the vestiges of the old order — extreme poverty, racial segregation, and educational disadvantage — but he was inspired by the emergence of hope, integration, and academic achievement in this sun-scorched land of Faulkner. While the work was not glamorous, Johnston said he found it to be incredibly rewarding.
Johnston had no intention of writing when he embarked on the job, but soon realized that family, friends, and former teachers were eager to learn about his experience. While there is literature focusing on kids in urban poverty, he said, there is little attention paid to kids in rural poverty.
“It’s more of an effort to give life to stories of kids I knew,” said Johnson, whose role in the story recedes after the opening chapters. “I didn’t want the book to be about me.”
After completing a rough manuscript of his experiences in the summer of 1998, Johnston brought it to his former senior essay advisers, Cynthia Farrar and Doug Rae, who enthusiastically received the idea and helped him along the path to publication. After revisions and help from agents and a publisher, the book hit bookstores this fall. Since then, Johnston has balanced his law school studies with a 23-city book tour, crisscrossing the American landscape from Chapel Hill to San Francisco. From the initial draft to the finished book, the publication process lasted four years.
Though Johnston said he envisions writing to be an avocation rather than a full-time career, he hopes to do more of it in the future, and even plans to start a new book on education reform this spring.
“I think my prime commitment is to continue to be an educator, and effect change that way,” said Johnston, who said he hopes to become the principal of a public high school.
The write stuff
Adam Jed ’03 said that being published in the real world is oftentimes a matter of good fortune and the right connections. A Branford senior, Jed has already co-authored two works that have hit bookshelves: I Will Sing Life, a book of poignant childhood experiences, and an amusing SAT guide entitled Up Your Score.
In elementary school, Jed was one of seven children invited to write an autobiographical chapter for an edition of the I Will Sing Life series. The series, co-authored by Larry Berger ’90 and actor Paul Newman, details the experiences and hardship of young children who have confronted serious illness or health issues.
While he said he does not envision writing as a career, Jed hopes to have more work published down the road after he gains more life experience. He said the entire process has its highs and lows.
“Writers block, indecision, and perfectionist tendencies can all drive one insane,” said Jed, who added that his two books were relatively easy to write. “However, once you get into a groove, the editing process was relatively painless.”
Elizabeth Sledge, the Associate Master of Calhoun College and an English professor, said that in her experience she has encountered a number of current Yalies and freshly-minted grads who have shown publishing prowess in the real world.
“Since Yale students have an enormous capacity for work, as well as astounding creativity, it’s not surprising that so many have succeeded,” Sledge said. “But since they tend to engage most heavily in their academic work and extracurriculars, few have time during their four years at Yale to publish.”
One of Sledge’s pupils, David Haskell ’01, went on to start a quarterly, non-fiction magazine called Topic. Haskell, who is currently studying at Cambridge University on a Gates Scholarship, focuses each magazine issue on a particular theme, bringing together articles from an eclectic, international group of thinkers and writers.
For some, the fame of one’s name appearing in a glossy magazine or paperback book is not a priority. One Calhoun sophomore, who recently wrote an unpublished novel, said she would be happy just to be published.
“I love writing in any capacity,” she said. “I’d be happy writing manuals for a company — like ‘this is how you put together your child’s mini gymnasium.'”