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Music Professor Guides Writers on Getting Published

Rebecca Martelotti Staff Writer

Paul Kalis

Elizabeth Wollman, a music professor and published author, shared her career advice and experiences with Post students on Thursday, March 7 at the “Food for Thought” lecture series.  She studied adult musicals for the majority of her career as a writer and published two books on the topic.  At the lecture, she gave advice on how to find your passion as a writer and how students could get their thoughts published.

Wollman began her career interning at Rolling Stone magazine and was also the Broadway editor of Playbill.  Her first book, The Theater Will Rock: A History from Hair to Hedwig, based on her college dissertation, was published in 2006.

Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Music in the Fine and Performing Arts Department at Baruch College at the City University of New York (CUNY).

When researching her first book, Wollman became intrigued with adult musicals that depicted incredibly intimate sexual songs and acts.

“As a writer, you never know when inspiration will hit and in what form,” she said on why she decided to write a book about a time when many musicals were pornographic in nature.  The topic became the theme of Wollman’s second book, Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City. Many of the “adult musicals” she wrote about in the book dealt with the sexual revolution, feminism and gay rights.  However, many of the off-Broadway plays, such as musical Hair and the long-running Oh! Calcutta! received mainstream successes, but others like Let My People Come were not as popular.

“While writing this book, I had to learn to deal with a particular brand of embarrassment,” said Wollman.

A piece of advice she gave was that as a writer, you sometimes have to reassure sources that you will respect their privacy.  As a writer, everything is a learning experience, especially when you are investigating something that you don’t understand or know much about.

“I have always been sort of a freak in my career choices,” said Wollman.  Her fascination with local New York theater, music and culture began in college when she was an English major and Music minor.  In graduate school, she studied ethnomusicology, which is “basically an anthropological approach to music.”

Wollman said that she always had a strong interest in music as a cultural force: how it functions in society, how music differs in other places, how it’s used in society, and the way people make music.  She recalled that these intellectual interests began with the death of John Lennon of the Beatles, when she was 11 years old.  She said she was curious as to why his death impacted the lives of so many people.

Additional advice she gave to the Post students was to find what interests you and what your passion is and then write about it.  As a writer, according to Wollman, you need to focus on what intrigues you and what you think is worth writing about even if other people disagree with you.  “My parents never wanted me to be a writer”, she added.

“I thought she was a great presenter. Almost theatrical in her delivery, yet very real,” said senior Journalism major, Anna Scheblein.

According to Matthew Applewhite, a senior Broadcasting major and Journalism minor, this was one of the top lectures that he has attended in the series.

“I really enjoyed her speech.  It was very entertaining and she was extremely honest in what she was saying,” said Sang Geun Yoon, a senior Journalism major. “I think her field of study was more interesting compared to others [lectures] and she gave valuable advice on how to write about your passion.”

While discussing her experiences writing her books, Wollman stated that the absolute best question to ask someone you are interviewing is for additional sources to contact.  She stressed that most of the time writers get other sources through word of mouth.  She applied her advice as a book author to the journalism students in the audience.  “As a journalist you shouldn’t shy away from everything,” said Wollman. “Strange things can present opportunity.”

For those interested in writing a book, Wollman spoke about the changing business of publishing.  The best way to get a publisher, she said, is to make a list of your dream publishers and send your book to each one.  She stressed the importance to constantly and consistently write because it will be easier to your particular voice.  “Her advice was real because she has gone through the process of publishing books and having to re-work so much of the stuff she wrote and love,” said Applewhite.

“I thought she gave a lot of insight into journalism and writing,” said Potoula Anagnostakos, a sophomore Journalism major.

According to Scheblein, the anecdotal stories Wollman used to share her experiences both as a student, a writer and as a professor were very insightful.

Through stories about the various experiences she has had as a writer, she informed the students that they could do it all.  “It was nice for a professional to acknowledge the hardships writers confront,” added Scheblein.

Wollman is currently working on an idea for another book, but she said that juggling family, students, teaching, and her writing can be difficult.  “When it’s time, just jump in and do it,” Wollman said.  “Things balance each other out and it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to finish a goal, as long as you finish it.”

Wollman’s speech was the final lecture of the semester in the Media Arts Department’s “Food For Thought” series.

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