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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 Linda Davis Kyle

August 1998

This interview was first published in "Writers Around the World" in the August 1998 issue of writingnow.com 

Q: Sonia, what are your first memories about your goals to become a writer, public speaker, and lawyer? 

A: My first wish for an occupation was to be a writer. I wanted to be a writer--but I didn't want to write. It seemed like very lonely, isolated work requiring the kind of self-discipline I didn't believe I had. So I never actually planned to be a writer--and didn't in fact attempt to become one until I retired from law. I did, however, get a poem published in the Miami Herald when I was ten years old--so maybe that says something about my interest in writing.

I don't recall ever wishing to be a public speaker. But I always adored telling stories, especially humorous stories. When I was a teenager, I was thrilled to learn from my mother that my maternal grandfather had been a marshalik, a badkhn, a jester. He told jokes and stories at weddings and bar mitzvahs. So perhaps it was in my genes. Then, when I worked as a lawyer at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, enforcing a new law that prohibited, among other things, sex discrimination in employment, one of my duties was to give talks on the requirements of this new law. Later, I did the same thing for the US Information Agency (USIA), lecturing on the women's right  revolution in the United States in many places around the world. And I found I loved public speaking. My interest in becoming a lawyer was the result of many strands in my life. There had been influences impelling me to law school since my childhood. They'd never coalesced in my mind as a determination to attend, however, until I finally made the decision. Many events in my life led up to it, but it began with my childhood in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. My parents were in the resort business, renting out rooms and bungalows for the summer season. Since they were immigrants with an imperfect grasp of English, from childhood on, I handled their correspondence and drew up the rental agreements. As a sideline, my father invested in second mortgages. His attorneys in these endeavors were a husband-and-wife legal team, Joe and Ethel Kooperman, who lived and practiced law in Ellenville, New York. So, from an early age, I was involved with lawyers and had seen a woman practicing law.

In my senior year at Cornell University, when I was in the Graduate School of Business & Public Administration, one of my courses was called "Legal Problems of Business," and I found myself enjoying it a great deal.

In the 1950s, I joined a Great Books group. One of the selections was St Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on Law, which I found fascinating. In the four years after graduating from Cornell, I held a number of what were essentially secretarial positions. I felt I wanted to do more with my education but needed additional credentials. That led to law school.

Q: Who influenced and inspired you most in your years as a developing youngster?

A: I think what influenced me most as a developing youngster was not any person but the circumstances of my life. I was born in Germany and had to flee with my parents and brother to escape the Holocaust. In the United States, my parents moved to various places as they attempted to get settled in a new country. This moving to different towns and the fact that my parents and I were immigrants and Jews were the most significant influences on my life.

There were, however, also people who played a role at various stages of my life in encouraging me to go to college and to law school. Such thoughts did not originate with me. I grew up in a small town and in a milieu where young women did not go to college. My plan in high school was to become a secretary. I had, in fact, never seen a college before I went to Cornell. But at various stages there were fellow students and teachers who indicated I should be going on in my education.

Q: Would you like to have been born in a different time and a different country? Have you been happy experiencing the challenges of your time?

A: I can't really say I'd like to have been born in a different time and a different country. Where and when I was born have made me the person I am and I am certainly not willing to give that up. Of course, I wish the country I had been born in wasn't the locale for the Holocaust.

I often think how different my life would have been but for Hitler. I would have grown up in Germany and led an altogether different life. But that does not mean I would give up the life I had and am having. Have I been happy experiencing the challenges of my time? Difficult question. Happiness isn't something most of us experience for long stretches of time. My escape from the Holocaust and my knowledge that I was bright made me feel that I was not free, as other young women were, merely to seek happiness but that I had been saved to make a contribution to my society.

I have been privileged to have been part of the women's movement. I regret that there are still so many women in the world whose status is deplorable. But we have made progress and I hope we will continue to do so.

Q: Will you describe for our readers how you felt when your first publication was accepted?

A: It's hard to say--it was several years ago. But every acceptance is a thrill and every rejection is just that--a rejection. One thing that has happened with time is that I feel comfortable identifying myself as a writer. It took me a long time to feel that way.

Q: What creates the insatiable spark in those compelled to write?

A: I can't answer this question for others. For myself, all my life I've felt that something isn't real unless I write it down. That may sound odd--that what actually happens isn't real but that when I write it down it becomes real. But that's how I've always felt.

Also, writing is a way of dealing with all the disappointments and failures that happen in one's life. It's a way of taking control that real life doesn't let you have. My way of writing is generally to use humor. By using humor, I can laugh at things that when they happened were usually not very funny at all. Much of what happens in life one can either cry about or laugh about. If possible, I choose to laugh about it. 

Q: Can you share any special hints for dealing with publishers? 

A: You need to find the special niche where your writing fits. In my case, for example, Jewish and feminist publications have been most receptive to my writing.

Q: You demonstrate strength and perseverance in all that you do. Did you ever have any doubt that you would be successful? 

A: Always. That's one of the difficulties of being young. When I was younger, I had no assurance that I would be successful or that my life would turn out well.

With regard to writing, I didn't start that until after my retirement as an attorney and in the year or so before my first piece was accepted, I was riddled with doubts as to whether I had any writing ability. Frankly, I still am.

Q: What advice would you like to give to both aspiring writers waiting to be published and seasoned writers working to be published more and more?

A: You must be prepared to give writing, the research that it requires, and marketing of your writing a high priority in your life. Lots of other things have to go by the board and you must concentrate on the writing.

Don't give up if you believe you may have some writing ability. Don't think you've run through all the publications and publishers; there are always others. Don't let the rejections stop you.

Don't spend too much time at it but attending good writing courses and writers' conferences are worthwhile. I myself learned a great deal by taking a writing course at the Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and by taking a two-week course in memoir-writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The latter was especially inspiring as it was great to spend two weeks in a community of writers, sharing our thoughts and experiences.

Q: What are your favorite books?

A: Two favorite books of mine were The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten and Roommates by Max Apple. The first is the funniest book I've ever read. The second is both humorous and poignant. I wish I could write like these two men. 

Q: What is your prediction for the status of both men and women writers in our society 20 years from now? What must writers do to succeed in the field, or writing both on the Internet and in print? 

A: I haven't the slightest idea. I'm happy to make it day by day. To succeed in writing, writers must keep on writing and marketing. The marketing takes at least as much time and effort, and probably more, than the writing. But it's worth the effort. For me, there's no sense in writing if you're not going to be communicating to readers. 

Linda Davis Kyle is a general interest writer whose works have been published in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Writer Online, "Writers Around the World," Aug. 1998