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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Interview with Author Sonia Pressman Fuentes

By Marita Meegan, August 2009

Submitted by: akgmag.com interviews (Akgmag closed its website on June 30, 2017.)

Sonia Pressman Fuentes came to the U.S. with her immediate family from Berlin, Germany, in 1934 to escape the Holocaust.  She graduated from high school in Monticello, New York; Cornell University; and  the University of Miami (FL) School of Law. 
She was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (first woman attorney in the General Counsel’s Office), and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development in Washington, D.C. 
She was a co-founder of NOW, WEAL (the Women’s Equity Action League), and FEW (Federally Employed Women).
In 1993, she retired from the federal government, thereafter wrote her memoir, Eat First - You Don't Know What They'll Give You, and embarked on new careers as a writer and public speaker.

Thank you Sonia for taking the time to answer some questions for us!  To start, please tell us about the latest project you've worked on. 

The most recent project I’ve worked on is a Maternal Healthcare Program to be presented on November 1, 2009, at the Sarasota Hyatt Regency Hotel.  I’ve arranged, with a woman named Laura Gilkey, for an internationally-recognized panel of speakers to discuss current issues involving maternal healthcare.

Have you received any awards for your work?

Yes.  In November 1996, Betty Friedan presented me with the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) Medal of Honor in recognition of my work to improve the status of women.

On October 10, 1999, I received the 1999 Women at Work Award given by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) in Washington, D.C.

On March 21, 2000, I was one of five women inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame for the year 2000. Later that year, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees included me in the Gallery of Prominent Refugees.

On May 6, 2005, I was one of 10 women activists honored as foremothers of the women's movement by The National Research Center for Women and Families in Washington, D.C.

I am one of 74 Jewish women included in an exhibit of the Jewish Women's Archive on Jewish women who contributed to women's rights in the U.S. at jwa.org/feminism.

On June 9, 2008, I was one of 36 feminist lawyers, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sarah Weddington, honored by the Veteran Feminists of America at the Harvard Club in New York City for significant contributions to women’s rights in the 1963-75 time period.

Do you also do speaking engagements, or seminars?

Yes, I have given talks all over the US and throughout the world, some as an “American specialist” on women’s rights for the then-U.S. Information Agency.

How has your education, profession or background helped you in your writing career? Or conversely, how has your writing success helped you in your  profession?

My training as a lawyer, of course, helped me in my writing career because it involved writing. On the other hand, it was also detrimental.   For my memoir, I had to learn how to write in a non-legal manner. I had 110 footnotes in the first draft of my memoir; then I went back and eliminated most of them. 

What kind of other works (books, scripts, poems etc.) have you had published? 

I have published only one book, my memoir:  Eat First - You Don't Know What They'll Give You, but I have had excerpts from the book and other nonfiction articles published in newspapers, magazines, and law reviews all over the world and online.
Is there any aspect to your profession that gets you in touch with your readers directly?
Yes, giving speeches.
What will your next project be?
I will be giving the luncheon talk on October 3, 2009, at the third annual conference of the Florida Consortium for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Tampa in Tampa, FL.
Who inspires you on a personal or business level?
The memory of my late friend, Dr. Ida Davidoff, a feminist and family therapist, who saw clients until two weeks before her death just short of her 98th birthday, continues to inspire me.
What type of work is the most rewarding or satisfying for you?
Giving talks and interacting thereafter during the question-and-answer period with the audience.
What can you recommend for writers who are just getting started and are trying to make a name for themselves?
If you feel there’s something you’re compelled to write, just sit down and do it.  I also recommend taking writing programs.  I took a course at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, and attended a two-week program at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, given in conjunction with Elderhostel, both of which were helpful to me.

As for making a name for oneself, one has to market, market, market.  Although my memoir appeals to a general audience, it has special appeal to Jews and feminists, and I particularly hit organizations of such groups with regard to readings and talks.

How did you get started as a writer?

When something happens to me that hits me where I live, I feel compelled to write about it.  The first piece I had published was a poem called, "The Dew," which was published by the Miami Herald when I was 10 years old.

Which is your favorite book/work published? Is there a favorite?

My favorite book is The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten, published in the 1930s under the name of Leonard Q. Ross.  It is a hilarious account of a night school class of a group of immigrants.  Since I’m an immigrant to this country myself and write with humor, it resonated with me.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Each of my days is different.  On two days of the week, I start my day by working out with my trainer at one of the local Y’s; on two other days, I start  by going to a water exercise class at another Y.  I’m involved in a number of organizations and projects and work on them.  Sometimes, I draft speeches.  I usher for several theaters in town.  I meet friends for lunches and dinners, movies, concerts, museum-going, and theater.  I attend organizational meetings. I travel.  I maintain an e-mail correspondence with a great many people in the US and around the world.  I read newspapers, magazines, and books.  It is a full and varied life.

Who is your favorite writer/author?

I like the novels of Jeffrey Archer, but my tastes are eclectic and I’ve enjoyed many books.

Finally, a most important question: what was the last song you sang out loud when you were by yourself?  :)

The theme song from HBO’s True Blood called Bad Things.  The refrain is:  “I wanna do bad things with you.”

Thank you Sonia for an insightful interview! We wish you great success with your future projects!