You state on your website that you have been writing since you were a child. What first interested you about writing?
I was a lonely, unhappy kid who escaped into books at a very young age. Living vicariously through books opened up a whole new world for me. Two very early memories come to mind: I must have been about four when I wrote a story and showed it to my father who told me that I shouldn’t write any additional stories before I learned how to correctly spell my last name, (Weinberg). And, just a year or two later, I had this truly ridiculous idea that I could write better versions of The Bobbsey Twins than those I was reading!
Did you have any mentors along the way?
With not a single journalism class, I was blessed to have several mentors who generously shared their expertise and wisdom with me, including Alan Rosenberg, former executive editor of The Providence Journal, Linda Lotridge Levin, former chair of the University of Rhode Island’s journalism department; Gail Solomon, a multi-talented graphic designer; and Temple Habonim’s Rabbi Emeritus James Rosenberg. More recently, my neighbor and friend Jim Rosenthal, a former editor of The Providence Journal, helps inform my thinking about the appropriate role of journalism and journalists in our politically fraught society. I am so grateful, too, that I only had one colleague who was a role model for what not to do!
For several reasons, I left the practice of law in 1999, and later became a writer. I have a high need for novelty, so I enjoy having diverse writing assignments – I never get bored and I get to learn something new from everyone I interview. When I was once assigned to interview an acclaimed theoretical physicist, I initially panicked and thought, “I don’t have the foggiest idea what to ask him.” Then, I calmed down and did some research and the interviewee turned out to be one of the kindest and most thoughtful individuals I’d ever met. Even so, I didn’t retain a single fact about string theory, his area of expertise, from that interview!
And you have written for many other publications and organizations, including Providence Business News, Edible Rhody, and Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. How have these many experiences enriched your world (and state of Rhode Island) view?
As an adult, I’ve developed a strong streak of curiosity about people, their lives, and what makes them “tick.” By asking questions, especially the unexpected ones, I get to walk in the shoes of those I interview, if only for a very brief period. I learn about people’s joys and heartbreaks, and their accomplishments and challenges. I’ve learned that Rhode Island has more than its fair share of quirky, caring, and passionate people. I love cooking and baking, so writing for Edible Rhody provides me an insider’s perspective of our rich culinary offerings. And, writing for Brown’s Watson Institute is particularly meaningful: I get to interview and write about renowned social and political scientists who are fascinating subject matter experts in their respective diverse fields.
You have been and still are very active in the community. What are some of your community passions – and why?
I believe I’m the longest serving member of Women & Infants Hospital’s Bioethics Committee – 30 years and counting! I’m deeply interested in medicine and ethics, so serving on this committee fulfills me.
Otherwise, I avoid board service, as I prefer one-off activities, such as collecting coats for Rhode Island’s Buy Nothing Day (the day after Thanksgiving) at the Statehouse, and coordinating food and clothing drives for those in need. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is growing exponentially and, while I can’t fix the problems of those who lack resources, I hope that my small efforts might make their lives incrementally better, if only temporarily.
And, I write postcards/letters for political causes and donate money to political candidates. I developed an interest in politics and social justice early: I was 10 when I told my mother that I wanted to go with our rabbi to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama. My mother told me I was too young and it was too dangerous! Eight years later, I chose political science as my college major. In 2006, I managed the media for Ballot Question 2 in Rhode Island, which the voters approved; it restored voting rights to Rhode Islanders on probation or parole. For me, that was a high point in my professional career.
You also edit, with one of your positions being a former editor of The Jewish Voice. Talk about the differences – and intertwined relationship – between writer and editor.
As the sole staff writer and editor of The Jewish Voice, I found that editing my own work was one of my most challenging responsibilities – it’s always easier to edit someone else’s work. I took great care to edit writers’ contributions – both for The Jewish Voice and, now, for Edible Rhody, without changing or distorting the voice of each writer. I try to use a light touch, and edit only what I feel truly needs changing. In the case of one contributor, I sought permission when I proposed something as small as changing a comma to a semi-colon or vice versa. Fortunately, the individual always agreed with my recommendation, but there were other times when I had to tell a columnist that my decision – about something much more significant than a comma or semi-colon – was final. I always offered such columnists the choice to allow the piece to be published with my changes or to pull it from publication.
On your website, you have a long list of favorite quotes and musings. Pick two or three that you’d like to share with our audience.
“There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Albert Einstein); “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” (Mary Oliver); “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” (Mark Twain)
When you are not writing or editing, what are some of your interests?
Baking, cooking, reading, walking, and travel. I’m an enthusiastic, if haphazard, gardener and knitter.
What advice do you have for young and beginning writers?
Be curious; develop your own voice; read incessantly and broadly. If there’s an outlet you want to write for, do your homework: Read several of the outlet’s stories, understand the organization’s mission and purpose, and prepare some suggested story pitches. Don’t expect to get rich, and write, write, write, even if no one is paying you to do so. Watch out for dangling participles and modifiers of the word “unique”!
Nancy Kirsch is a freelance writer living in Rhode Island and a regular contributor to Ocean State Stories. Earlier in her career, she served as General Counsel to Cranston Print Works and Editor of “The Jewish Voice” (now “Jewish Rhode Island”). Find her at nancykirsch.com