Mary Eberstadt spoke at Hillsdale College this week for the Center for Constructive Alternatives lecture series on the 1960s, where she spoke on “Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.” A senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute and graduate of Cornell University, Eberstadt is an American essayist and novelist whose pieces have appeared in magazines including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, National Review, First Things, and The Weekly Standard. Eberstadt also served as a speech writer to Secretary of State George Shultz during the Reagan administration. She is also the author of a few nonfiction books, including “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.”
What is the significance of writing in your life? Have you always loved writing?
My main vocation honestly is being a wife and mother, but I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I always hope that somewhere down there it serves the greater good and tells truths. I regard myself as a counter-cultural writer in the sense that a lot of what I do is against the mainstream grain, and that’s not because I want to be contrarian, it’s just that a lot of what is happening in the mainstream is wrong and bad for people. What I try to do is tell stories, whether in fiction or nonfiction, that tell truths and to do so respectfully. I also try to engage the other side, and that’s the hardest thing about writing: the other side doesn’t want to talk back.
In all of the different types of writing you have done, from speech writing, to essays, to novels, what has been your favorite?
Last year my novel “The Loser Letters” was turned into a play, and it ran for two weeks at Catholic University in D.C. That was very exciting and it makes me want to do more fiction writing and more stage writing. This year I have a lot of essay writing and speaking going on, and probably a book that will include what I did here today and a few other chapters. After that I want to get back to fiction.
What do you hope to instill in the hearts of your audience?
One thing is that there are truths they may not be aware of, and I’m trying to impart to them. Another thing is to give people morale who feel like they are a minority, they’re not a minority here on this campus, but out in the wider world I’m very aware of how countercultural a traditional Christian message can be. Part of what I try to do, especially with students, is give them ammunition, in a figurative sense, so they feel like somebody’s got their back and somebody understands how hard it is for them to be countercultural too. Part of it is intellectual, but part of the work is of the heart.
Is there someone you grew up admiring, maybe an author or another role model you’ve always hoped to follow in their footsteps?
Intellectually there are so many, but I draw a lot of inspiration from the Russian novelists. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn,and the reason is that they were crawling out of a serious place and time in their different eras that they put a primacy on the truth. Solzhenitsyn especially writes brilliantly about truth telling and the importance of it.
From what I understand your husband is also an author. What does he write about? How did you meet?
He’s an economist and a demographer. He’s done a lot of work on international issues including world poverty and North and South Korea. We’ve been married for almost 30 years. I was single and working at a magazine, and he had written a piece and I wrote him a sort of fan note. It was the only time I’ve ever done something like that. I thought he was some sort of established old professor. When he came out to New York, he said he was going to take me out to lunch because he liked my note. When he came through the magazine door, he was 30 years younger than I thought he was.
Living in a society where the culture is strongly opposed to conservative Christian values, how do we stay true to our values and be that light to the world?
I’m not sugarcoating it; it’s really tough, and I think it’s especially tough to be a young Christian today. On the other hand, there is a lot of reason for hope. Part of what we’re meant to do is bring other people in, including through our example. The strongest thing our side has going for it, and it’s the same thing Christianity has always had going for it, is that we have an actual community. That’s why I remain an optimist because that sense of community draws people in.
What’s your perspective on Hillsdale College? Is this your first time here? What have you heard about the school?
Yes, this is my first time to Hillsdale College, but what I’ve heard is that the students are intellectually serious, that the faculty are very dedicated, that it’s vibrant, and everything I have seen here has affirmed all of those impressions. The spirit here carries on after people leave here and it’s wonderful to see.