Interview with Here She Is Author Hilary Levey Friedman

Give us a brief summary of your life till now and how it led you to write.

In many ways I am still a professional student, though now I teach as well (but even there, I am always learning, as remote teaching has really shown me!). As a child, I identified as a bookworm and that identity never substantially shifted. Reading was, and still is, my favorite activity and I suppose I never thought I would NOT write a book. Being a qualitative sociologist especially, a book is a natural path for a dissertation, and that is indeed how mu first book happened. I must confess, I read more fiction than non-fiction at times (at least for pleasure), but only write non-fiction, which is almost certainly a result of doing a PhD. Though life is long and there is always more to learn!

Your previous book, Playing to Win, focused on competitive children’s sports. Here She Is focuses on competitive beauty pageants (and was the subject of your honors thesis at Harvard). What draws you to study competition in the modern world (20th – 21st century)?

Competition has definitely been a through line in my work, especially how it has increased in many ways over the years partially due to technological changes. To me much of the American story is related to competition. General Patton’s quote (which inspired the name of my first book!) still rings true: “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time.”

What appeals to you about sociology and studying people?

People are endlessly fascinating and changing. I appreciate that sociology focuses on context- individual, institutional, societal, and even historical- which allows for much more nuanced thinking.

Tell us about your next project.

I am still working on that. I know it will involve more writing and continue my interest in issues related to women and children, but I can’t say much more than that right now.

What’s your research process like?

I start by reading — a LOT! Works cited in anything I read is definitely my friend. Then I start talking to people (either in person or on the phone). I always used to like to do fieldwork- to get the experience of being at some place- but we will see how COVID-19 impacts that.

What’s your writing routine? Do you write longhand or type everything?

I definitely type everything! I have long had terrible penmanship, which has only gotten worse as I type more often (vicious cycle there).

What writers do you admire, past or present?

So many! I appreciate different ones for different reasons, so I’ll highlight areas that impress me: 1. Productivity 2. Wordsmithing 3. Enduring insights about society.

What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like least?

Best: Ability to deeply explore a topic of interest

Least: Being alone, a lot

What little personal quirk would you like to reveal to your readers?

Every day, I strive to get to inbox zero.

Hilary’s website

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