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If you like Nora Ephron's story, you might also like:
Francis Ford Coppola,
Joan Didion,
Louise Glück,
Ron Howard,
Carol Shields,
Tom Wolfe and
Robert Zemeckis

Nora Ephron can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
Nora Ephron's Blog
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Wellesley Commencement Address

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Nora Ephron
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Nora Ephron Interview (page: 4 / 8)

Humorist, Novelist, Screenwriter and Director

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  Nora Ephron

Going back to yourself as a child, did you like to read? Were there books that you really remember loving as a kid?

Nora Ephron: Yes. I was an early reader.


My first memory of my mother, which of course came up very easily when I was in therapy, was of her teaching me to read. Your first memory of each of your parents is a kind of key to many things about your life, and mine is: I am sitting next to my mother, and she is teaching me to read and I can read, and she is so happy. So imagine what that is to a child. I mean, all you want to do is read because you know it will make your mother happy, and of course, reading is so great. So I was an avid reader, just constantly reading, reading, reading, reading. Television really didn't come into our lives until I was about nine or ten, by which time I had already read hundreds and hundreds of books. I was already hooked on the Oz books and the Betsy-Tacy books. You name it, I had read it. Mary Poppins and all of Nancy Drew. Junky books, great books, I read everything. Beverly Hills Public Library was a very short bike ride away, and I would go over there and take three books out and go back two days later and take three more books out.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


What about teachers? Were there teachers who were pretty important to you?

Nora Ephron: Yes. I had a couple of great, great teachers. The teacher who changed my life was my journalism teacher, whose name was Charles Simms. I always tell this story. I love it. I had already decided that I was going to be a journalist. I didn't know why exactly, except that I had seen a lot of Superman comics. Lois Lane and all of those major literary characters like that, but Mr. Simms got up the first day of class, and he went to the blackboard, and he wrote "Who, what, where, why, when, and how," which are the six things that have to be in the lead of any newspaper story. Then he did what most journalism teachers do, which is that he dictated a set of facts to us, and then we were all meant to write the lead that was supposed to have "who, what, where, why, when, and how" in it.


He dictated a set of facts that went something like, "The principal of Beverly Hills High School announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento, Thursday, for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Speaking there will be Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, and two other people." So we all sat down at our typewriters, and we all kind of inverted that and wrote, "Margaret Mead and X and Y will address the faculty in Sacramento, Thursday, at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal announced today." Something like that. We were very proud of ourselves, and we gave it to Mr. Simms, and he just riffled through them and tore them into tiny bits and threw them in the trash, and he said, "The lead to this story is: There will be no school Thursday!" and it was this great epiphany moment for me. It was this, "Oh my God, it is about the point! It is about figuring out what the point is." And I just fell in love with journalism at that moment.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


I just fell in love with the idea that underneath, if you sifted through enough facts, you could get to the point, and you had to get to the point. You could not miss the point. That would be bad. So he really kind of gave that little shift of mind a major push. I just fell in love with solving the puzzle, figuring out what it was, what was the story, what was the truth of the story.

What was your parents' reaction when you told them you wanted to be a journalist?

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
Nora Ephron: I don't have any memory of telling my parents I wanted to be a journalist, but they would have been completely happy about it. They absolutely wanted us to be writers. I can't imagine, if I ever said, "I've decided to be a journalist," they wouldn't have said great.

Why did they want you to be writers?

Nora Ephron: I think they thought we were writers. I think that there are many kids who are not writers. We were writers. I think they wanted us to be writers so that we wouldn't make a mistake and be things that we weren't. Had I said I want to be a lawyer, that probably would have been okay, too. I could easily have been a lawyer, but they would have known it wouldn't have been as much fun to be a lawyer.

So they felt writing was fun?

Nora Ephron: Well, writing is a great life if you can make it work. What's more fun than that, you know?

How did you decide to go to Wellesley?

Nora Ephron: I think the decision to go to Wellesley was just a very simple one. First of all...


My mother had laid down an edict in the house, which was that we were not allowed to go to any school that had sororities. I don't know why. That's a perfectly good edict, by the way, but I don't know if she laid it down because she hated sororities, which I'm sure she did, or whether it was a very simple way of directing us to a very small number of colleges, all of which were very good, the seven women's colleges in the East at that time and Stanford. So I applied to all of them. And I went to Wellesley because I had gone to a slide show, and it had a really beautiful campus. It was one of those things. Nobody got on a plane and visited colleges in that period. Wellesley was one of the best places you could go to, and most of the very bright women in the United States went to Wellesley or Radcliffe or Stanford. So I chose Wellesley.


You used some devastating language when you made a graduation speech at Wellesley some years later. As bright as everyone was, it was still understood that a woman's degree was just a backup, in case you couldn't find a husband.

Nora Ephron: It was called "something to fall back on."


I went to college in 1958. I was the Class of '62. It was an unbelievably bland time in America. It was the end of the '50s, the happy homemaker. Betty Friedan was about to publish The Feminine Mystique, and the women's movement was about to begin, as well as quite a few other social movements in the '60s. Everything was about to really break free, but we didn't know that in 1958. It was a very, very, very -- you were supposed to go to college, you were supposed to get your B.A., and then if you were interested in medicine, you were supposed to marry a doctor.


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This page last revised on Dec 06, 2013 13:12 EDT