When I reached for my iPhone, and clicked on the blue Facebook app, there was a message on my timeline from my friend Tony Kraybill and a link to my essay “A Birthday Letter to Hillary Clinton” published in the Minneapolis StarTribune Oct. 25, 2016 (see article and link below). Throughout the day, other friends posted, shared, and tagged me. It was fun.
I’ve been interested in the Op-Ed form for a long time. I often go to the page opposite the editorial page at the end of the first section of a major newspaper. (Did you know that Op-Ed stands for “opposite the editorial page” and not “opinion-editorial”?) Neither did I — until I attended a workshop intended to help more diverse voices join the public debate in the media.
I first learned about the workshop from Deborah Siegel when we both participated in a writer’s group led by Christina Baker Kline back in 2012. Debbie and a group of other journalists had recently founded The Op-Ed Project.
Did you know that the percentage of women writers published in major newspaper Op-Ed pages more or less mirrors the percentage of women in congress and the percentage of women on corporate boards and CEOs of major companies? The range is as low as ten percent and as high as 36 percent, but seldom higher. Part of the purpose of the project is to bring attention to the unequal distribution of voices in the public sphere. Another goal is to help more women and other under-represented groups submit their ideas for possible publication.
Last week I wrote about my first TED-like talk. This week, the Op-Ed form. What these two have in common is speaking to the general public about something one cares deeply about and has a knowledge base in. I’m learning a lot about both forms. Here’s a little list of takeaways so far:
- a public voice consists of something you know well and care about. Together, these comprise expertise
- for some outlets, personal experience is part of that expertise
- an Op-Ed needs a news hook, some connection to recent headlines
- some outlets value voices from within their regions
- some outlets specify subjects of particular interest
- the Op-Ed Project website lists submission information for 150 outlets. So helpful!
- if you enter the public sphere, you are entering a place of controversy. Check out the 108 comments on my Op-Ed!
I applied the above by researching the date (news hook!) of Hillary Clinton’s birthday and then searching for how my own experience as a professor who taught women’s history classes, a first woman college president, and an informed citizen might relate to the values I believe our country needs more of — something I decided to name the Myth of Redemptive Inclusion. I took a piece of Hillary’s memoir and analyzed it through the lens of my American Studies background.
I wrote numerous drafts. Some were focused on the third debate. I submitted to one very large national outlet and heard nothing. So I researched the Minneapolis StarTribune. They actually seek opinions from people living in Minnesota. Perfect! My submission was sent on a Friday afternoon and accepted on Monday with publication left open to either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Thus, when I opened Facebook early on Tuesday, it was my friends who told me the essay was published. Here it is:
A Birthday Letter to Hillary Clinton
On Wednesday, you turn 69 years old — the same age Ronald Reagan was when he became president.
As a woman and another baby boomer, I raise a toast in your honor. Having spent years teaching women’s history, I know that women never break through glass ceilings without meeting bullies. Women historians of the future will study your three presidential debates as case studies of grace under pressure.
Thinking about your birthday, I remembered a story. It’s a story that not only explains why you debated so well but also holds the key to how you might be able to lead after Nov. 8, should you become our next president.
Back in February, you told CBS news reporter Scott Pelley that you were bullied as a little girl. Your mother, Dorothy Rodham, treated you with tough love when you sought consolation and protection inside closed doors. She sent you back outside with the words, “There’s no place for cowards in this house.”
Continue reading on the Minneapolis StarTribune opinion page. Then come back to join the conversation below:
Have you written any Op-Eds? Do you enjoy reading them? Have any questions or observations from reading both the essay and the backstory?