From Shorewood to Nairobi: Shorewood grad has unusual career path

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jill Filipovic at Third Place Books answering questions
about her book, The H-Spot
Photo by Steven H. Robinson

By Diane Hettrick

Jill Filipovic knew she wanted to be a writer from childhood, but there were other themes in her life as well. Social justice. Politics. She wouldn't have phrased it in those terms when she was in elementary school at Parkwood and got all her friends sign a petition and write letters to Proctor and Gamble to tell them to stop animal testing. Looking back, it is part of the trajectory of her life.

By the time she was in high school at Shorewood, she knew she wanted to be a writer. She worked on the school newspaper and loved it. For college, she chose the journalism path at New York University and headed there right after graduating from Shorewood in 2001.

The room cleared of chairs, fans line up to have Jill autograph
their books at the Third Place Books author event.
Photo by Steven H. Robinson

She landed at NYU in August 2001, got settled in the dorms, and three weeks later it was 9-11. "The planes woke me up because they were flying so low." She wasn't close enough to be in the impact zone, but she could see the Towers from her dorm.

In the weeks following, she got to see the softer side of New York. "No honking. People were kind to each other." It was a changed city and she fell in love. "I knew that New York was where I wanted to be."

She graduated with a double major in politics and journalism. By that time, in the aftermath of 9-11 and the lead up to the Iraq War, she had become disenchanted with journalism.

I didn’t want to just report, I wanted to make a difference.

Jill Filipovic, author of The H-Spot
So she went to law school, graduated, and went to work for a big New York law firm. She worked with small non-profits and volunteered in a NY ACLU law clinic.

She had become interested in feminism in a freshman class on women's studies. The professor asked a blunt question: Are you a feminist? and she couldn't answer, so she started researching. She became fascinated with women's issues both locally and internationally, particularly reproductive rights and sexual violence.

While she was a practicing attorney she started writing a blog on feminist issues. "Blogging was a new thing then, and there were only 4-5 of us writing about women's issues." The bloggers found each other and created an informal network of support.

Journalism made a big shift, women were ascending the ranks in media, and women’s issues became enormous. The feminist bloggers were all recruited to write for publications.

Jill was publishing articles regularly in the Huffington Post and other publications along with her law job, making it an 80 hour work week. Law was good for paying school debt, but it felt like the problems were so big and systematic and she could do so little that she became increasingly frustrated.

She decided that she could make a living as a writer and quit her law firm. She was a columnist for The Guardian for a year. Cosmopolitan magazine recruited her to write a political column.

After several years, she realized that she wanted to write a book.

My columns tend to be focused on one issue and are fairly tight; I wanted the book to be a bit more expansive and detailed, and bring together many different issues into one cohesive package.

She quit Cosmo and started traveling the globe, interviewing women about their lives. Cameroon, Malawi, Brazil, India, Indonesia - she did in-depth interviews with 200 women, often staying in their homes for several days.

In Malawi, she met journalist Ty McCormick. She was still working on her book. When he was offered a job as a bureau chief in Nairobi, Kenya, she decided to go with him. They will be married there in January.

When her book, The H-Spot: The Pursuit of Feminist Happiness, was published, she embarked on a national book tour, which eventually led her back home to Shoreline and Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

I'm hoping that the book sets out a big moral vision of what women want for our lives, and some ideas for how we get there.

She appeared at a Town Hall event in Seattle, and then at Third Place Books to a packed house full of Shorewood friends and teachers.

Her mother, Mary Filipovic, still lives in Shoreline. Her father, Michael Filipovic, is in Seattle.

I come back about twice a year, she said, especially for the holidays.

She credits her Shoreline education for supporting and affirming her choices. She particularly cites Shorewood teacher Dana Knox for igniting her passion for learning and giving her the support and confidence to think that she really could be a writer.

Then-counselor Carmen Dellino had a school club called Making a World of Difference that fostered her interests in social justice.

I love Shoreline and Seattle, she said. I love coming back here. Shoreline School District and teachers were sharing, supporting my young interests in writing and politics. I feel very lucky to have that kind of education and support.

Jill's book, The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, is available at Third Place Books in Town Center, Lake Forest Park, as well as online.

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