Academics / Community

A passion for metaphors: Margot Singer ’80

Everyone has their passions. For some it’s food; for others it might be animals. Margot Singer ’80, on the other hand, has a passion for metaphors.

I was lucky enough to get to sit down and interview Ms. Singer, who came to Dana to give a Wannamaker lecture in March 2016. The author of The Pale of Settlement: Stories and the editor of Bending Genres has won multiple awards for her work, including the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and the Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction.

When I say that Margot Singer has a passion for metaphors, I’m not kidding. Her speech started out with her showing a picture of a straight road, seeming never ending. She talked about how writing is often compared to a road, but how the road is perceived as straight, as if to say every writer knows where they’re going with their writing. She informed us, however, that this is not the case. Instead, writing is more like a winding, curvy road that takes you on unexpected turns and bumps throughout the journey. You may get lost, you may get confused, but you find your way back on the pathway eventually. Throughout her presentation, she referred back to the winding road many times, showing how it is the perfect metaphor for a writing career.

Ms. Singer works as a creative writing professor at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio. After graduating from Dana in 1980, she went on to Harvard University, Oxford University, and The University of Utah. She turned her attention to writing after a career in business.

The meeting I scheduled with Ms. Singer was supposed to be a short interview, but it turned into a real conversation. When I picture a writer, I tend to think about someone who is very serious and only talks about writing. When I met Ms. Singer, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

With her sleek, shiny silver hair and bright smile, Margot Singer was not at all how I pictured her to be. She was funny, chatty, and genuinely interested in the fact that I am a part of The Hallmanac, because she was the co-editor of it when she went to Dana. In fact, the first thing she told me about was having to go to the faculty advisor’s house and print out abundances of the newspaper in a room that she described as “dark and sketchy.”

When Ms. Singer was a student, she recalls that there many way more boarding students than day students, and it felt more like a boarding school with a “few extra people who were different just thrown in.” She also told me that she cried her way through math, and that her favorite things about Dana are the traditions and the great academic experience that every girl who attends gets. English was her favorite class, but she did not always plan on becoming a writer.

“I’ve always loved to write, and becoming a writer happened over a long period of time. One day I finally decided to just sit down and write a story, and eventually it got published,” she told me.

Ms. Singer was very honest about the writing process when I asked her about it, and told me that no part of it is truly easy. I asked her what the hardest part was and she replied with a smile, “all of it.” She said that sometimes while she is at a road block in her writing, she thinks to herself, “Why am I doing this, this is horrible, no one is going to like this,” but she also assured me that these voices in your head will eventually go away, and you just have to tune them out and continue to do what you love.

“One piece of advice I would give to an aspiring writer would be to read. Read a lot. Read, read, read. Read stuff you like, read stuff you’ve never heard of, ask for recommendations, read lots of what you love. Figure out what kind of writing you like and read that,” Ms. Singer said when I asked her what advice she would give to a young writer. She stressed the importance of reading throughout her presentation, and claims that reading is one of the reasons she ever thought about writing.

Margot Singer’s passion for reading and writing is infectious and made me want to go home and read a really great book, just because of how much she loves reading. I asked her if she would suggest any of her own work to someone who has never read any of her work before, and she recommended “Lila’s Story,” in her collection The Pale of Settlement (available in the Helen Temple Cooke Library). This fictional story is based on Ms. Singer’s grandmother and was first published in a literary magazine.

My entire view of writers has changed after meeting and hearing from Margot Singer. She was warm and kind and funny, and very passionate about her work, and she believed that I could be just as good a writer as she is today. She even took my email address to stay in contact, and told me if I ever needed her to look over something for me that she was happy to do it! She is a kind woman who genuinely loves what she does.

While I only talked to Ms. Singer for about 30 minutes and she only spoke to Dana as a whole for about an hour, she has certainly left her mark on me. Her metaphor about how writing is like a winding road is something I will always remember as I continue to write, and I hope Dana Hall has the opportunity to hear from Ms. Singer again sometime soon!

Photo: Margot Singer ’80 addresses the School at her Wannamaker lecture in March 2016. Photo credit: Liza Cohen.