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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Articles about Sonia are also contained in the section on Belgium.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Interview

by Jenna Glatzer

May 14, 2001

This interview is from WriteRead University, Online Courses for Writers, www.absolutewrite.com

Sonia Pressman Fuentes, the author of Eat First–You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter, was born in Berlin, Germany, and came to the U.S. with her family to escape Nazism.  She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Cornell University and a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Miami (Florida) School of Law.

She was the first woman lawyer in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  She has lectured extensively in this country and abroad on women's rights and has written numerous articles on that subject in law reviews and other publications both in the U.S. and abroad. She lives in Potomac, Maryland, but winters in Sarasota, Florida.

Since retiring in 1993, she has dedicated herself to writing, public speaking, and readings from her memoirs.

(Photo courtesy of Evelyn England, SAGE, Sarasota, Florida)

When and why did you start writing?

I have been writing from childhood.  When I was ten years old I had a poem published in the Miami (Florida) Herald.  I have always felt that no experience of mine was real until I wrote it down.  I did not, however, seriously embark upon a career as a writer until 1994, a year after I retired from a 36-year career as a lawyer.

You were one of the founders of the National Organization for Women, and have been highly involved in women's rights since 1965.  Why is this important to you?

I became sensitized to discrimination as a five-year-old child when as a Jew I had to flee Germany with my parents and brother to escape the Nazis.  In my teens, my family drove annually through the South en route to Miami Beach to spend the winters, and I was very affected by the segregated buses, benches, and restrooms I saw there and by the racist headlines in the newspapers.  When I went to work at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it was only natural that my concern for the rights of Jews and African Americans expand to encompass the rights of all who are discriminated against for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, age, and physical or mental disabilities.

I became particularly involved in getting the EEOC to implement the prohibitions against employment discrimination against women because I was a woman and because in its early days most of the officials at the Commission were not interested in expending the agency’s time and resources to fight sex discrimination.

It is important to me because I had the privilege of playing a role in the fight to provide equal opportunity to men and women without regard to sex and thereby make the world a fairer place in which to live.

You frequently write about women's rights, as well.  Any tips for breaking into this area of writing?

I write about women’s rights because I had an opportunity to play a historic role in the Second Wave of the women’s rights movement.  The tip is to write about what you know and passionately care about.

How did you decide on your publishers (print and e-book) for your memoir, Eat First-- You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter?

There’s a lengthy answer to this question and it’s contained in the piece of mine that Writer Online published in mid-October 2000 entitled “How I Published My Memoir, A Lawyer-Feminist’s Story.”  It is currently online at http://www.novalearn.com/wol/9bFuentes.htm

How have you sought publicity and distribution?

I have sought publicity and distribution in every possible way I could think of since the book was first published on November 24, 1999, in the U.S. by Xlibris Corporation.  (It was subsequently published in the U.K. by Planetree Publishing, Ltd. in January 2000.)  I tried finding a publicity agent to do this for me but never found the right person at a price I could afford, so I decided to do it myself.  My special niche audiences are women’s and Jewish groups and I have concentrated on them.  I have, however, also actively promoted the book to more general audiences because the reactions have been most positive from all readers.  I have been active in doing speaking engagements and memoir readings where I do book signings.  I have used the Internet a great deal, always being careful, however, not to spam people and organizations.  I never read anything without thinking, “How can I use this to promote my book?”

Has the experience been all you hoped it would be?

The experience has not been all I hoped it would be as regards sales of the book; for that, I need someone to mount a national newspaper, radio and TV campaign for me.  It has been beyond my wildest dreams in terms of recognition.  I have been the subject of many  interviews in newspapers, magazines and the Internet, including serving as the cover story on two occasions; the book has received favorable reviews; most of the pieces in the book have been excerpted in newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Canada, and South Africa and on the Internet.  In 1999, I was one of four recipients of the Women at Work Award given by Wider Opportunities for Women; prior recipients have included Linda Ellerbee, Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.  In 2000, I was one of five women inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame for the State of Maryland; this fall I will be included in the reference book Women of Achievement in Maryland History.  I have been included in the Gallery of Prominent Refugees established by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2000 to commemorate its 50th anniversary (unhcr-50.org).  I was one of nine e-book authors profiled in the May 2001 issue of Publishing Success, a newsstand-only publication of the Writer’s Digest.  My book has been used as a textbook at two universities: Cornell University and American University in Washington, D.C.

All of this came to me because of my efforts to improve the status of women but those efforts were unrecognized except by a select few until I wrote my memoir.

How did your book come to be used as a college textbook?

My book was used as a college textbook because I contacted colleges about it.  Cornell University was my alma mater so I naturally contacted that university.  I had a contact through a writer friend to a professor at American University, so that it how it became a textbook there.

There is no substitute for personal contacts.

Any tips for doing book signings and readings?

The way I get book signings and readings, by and large, is to contact organizations that have speakers and readings: book stores, literary festivals, colleges and universities, and organizations of all sorts.  I am also represented as a celebrity speaker by a speakers bureau, Speakers Plus! (www.speakersplus.com). 

Has there ever been a time in your life when you could feel comfortable in the knowledge that you are a talented writer?

Not really, although the success of my book has given me the belief that I have some ability as a writer.  I am more comfortable in the knowledge that I am a good speaker– but the book has given me added credibility in getting speaking engagements.  The writing and speaking really go together and complement each other.

What's one thing you wish you'd learned earlier about the publishing business?

One thing I’m glad I didn’t learn earlier is how long and intensive a process writing and promoting a book is.  Had I known that, it’s doubtful I would have entered upon this endeavor– and thereby missed the richest phase of my life.  This is undoubtedly true of most of life’s experiences– marriage, children.  Had we known what they would entail, how many of us would embark on these experiences?  And yet they prove very enriching.

What are your current goals, professionally and personally? 

I would like to stay alive and in reasonably good health, continue to find audiences for what I have to write and say, and enjoy socializing with family and friends.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you for your interest in my views and the opportunity to express them.

 WriteRead University, May 14, 2001