“No One Said I Couldn’t” – Meet Writer Jane Seskin

“I was writing, because really no one said I couldn’t write.  I was writing and selling and making money, which was the most amazing thing.”

No matter what other pursuits Jane engaged in – and there were many – she always found a way to incorporate writing.

Jane started as a teacher; the career she was told she could do. After an accident, she took a leave of absence and enrolled in an Ed.M. program (master’s degree in education). She submitted a children’s book for her Master’s thesis. Her thesis advisor – who thought the book was witty and weird – put Jane in touch with a well-known literary agent who signed Jane after their first meeting. She was so naïve about publishing that she refused to leave the manuscript with the agent. There was only one copy – Jane’s copy – and it was hand drawn!

When the agent asked: “Do you write anything else?,“ which Jane replied: “Well, I’m writing some notes about being single in New York…” These notes became a book called Living Single which sold well (although the children’s book did not). Then Cosmopolitan magazine reprinted some of the poems in Living Single, and Jane began her full-time writing career.

There’s a throughline to Jane Seskin’s life story:

seizing opportunities because no one told her she couldn’t.

“I was writing poems because it was a fast way to write down my feelings. Suddenly, I was a poet! I did not go back to teaching. I had a number of lucky breaks in terms of meeting people who liked my work and said, ‘Can you do this?’ And I said yes because I didn’t know I couldn’t do it. So, I did.”

Jane won a competition to do novelizations for Columbia pictures. She wrote two novels based on the show Fantasy Island. “And then I was writing regularly. Every six weeks or so, I would have a magazine assignment which was no longer on spec. I was writing for Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Woman Fifty Plus. I was just very lucky. I was writing the right things at the right time, in the right voice. And I sold.”

I’d describe Jane’s voice as succinct, wry, highly observant, self-effacing, and very funny. Here’s one brief example:

My Life

I am

ALWAYS

in the process

Of revision.

Following her stint as a full-time magazine writer, Jane’s life took another abrupt turn. One day, while on a book tour, she did a guest spot on a radio call-in show which required her to weigh in on one caller’s life. Even though she had just finished writing a book about women over 50, Jane says she thought to herself: “You have no business answering questions. Who do you think you are? You’re a writer. You may observe people beautifully, but you have no expertise in this area.”

Within six weeks, Jane had enrolled in an MSW program (master’s degree in Social Work) at Hunter College in Manhattan. During her internship, she worked at a day treatment program for chronic schizophrenics, followed by an assignment at an analytic clinic. Her writing career hadn’t disappeared; Jane was still under contract for another book. book. This new book (which was based on Jane’s Master’s thesis) was published as Alone, Not Lonely: Independent Living for Women Over Fifty.

MSW in hand, Jane spent the next twenty years as a social worker at St. Luke’s Hospital, primarily addressing issues of domestic violence. Her experiences dealing with violence against women became her next book Resilience Stories. The manuscript led to a residency at the Vermont Studio Center.

After eleven traditionally published books, Jane decided to self-publish. “I had no control over my book cover. I had no control, really of anything and did not like it. I thought: ‘I’m going to do this myself.’ Again, I was lucky. A lot of domestic violence programs adopted Resilience Stories because it’s for survivors and clinicians.”

Then, Jane’s focus shifted yet again. “I started writing about getting older. It’s personal, but it’s universal.” Not only was Jane getting older, but a specific incident pushed her into serious thinking about aging. She was walking in her neighborhood when a woman fell down in front of her. “She was an older woman, nicely dressed. I ran over. I said: ‘Don’t get up.’ Jane called 911 for an ambulance. “When it arrived, the woman said, ‘Please get in with me.’ I did… then I thought to myself: ‘What is it like to get old? I’d like to know.’ So, all these years, I’ve been trying to figure it out. And, also, to try to understand how we can better those years.”

What I find wonderful about Jane’s story is that she is largely self-taught. Jane wrote – and even gave writing workshops – without any formal training. As she describes it: “I just wrote. I never took a poetry class until the last 10 years. When I did finally take classes, they were dealing with structure. I was dealing with emotion. If it sounds right, and the line is short enough, then that’s it. I was sure enough of what my voice is. People read me and say: ‘I know this is Jane Seskin.’ There was a style that I wrote in.”

Jane’s writing style has recently led to a prestigious Pushcart Prize nomination!

That writing style has recently led to a Pushcart Prize nomination. The Pushcart Prize is a prestigious literary award that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year.

Jane still has goals, and new projects she’d like to tackle. For one class assignment, she wrote scripts for Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. While neither was staged, both performers were very complimentary about them. Now, she told me: “I think I would like to write something of importance about aging for someone to deliver.” She just has to figure out who she wants to write that script for.

© Karen Gershowitz (5/8/24) – Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Read Jane’s AUTHOR page on Amazon: JANE SESKIN is a clinical social worker and writer. For 20 years she provided individual and group counseling to survivors of violent crimes in a specialized hospital unit in New York. She is the author of 13 books, the latest the poetry collection OLDER WISER SHORTER: An Emotional Road Trip to Membership in the Senior Class. She’s published numerous essays and poetry in national magazines and journals. Jane has been a writer-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center and Noepe Center for Literary Arts. She embraces the idea of personal re-invention and optimistically believes behavioral and life change is possible. In 2022 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She loves reading mysteries, listening to jazz and has never met a piece of bread she wouldn’t try.

CREDITS & & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Jane at the Podium. Photo Credit: Ann Loeb

Middle Photo: A Jane Seskin Selfie.

Bottom Photo: Jane promoting Older, Wiser, Shorter. Photo Credit: Ann Loeb

All photos courtesy of Jane Seskin and used with her permission. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Aging, Alone Not Lonely, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Domestic Violence, Hunter College, Jane Seskin, Jewish-American Women Writers, Joan Rivers, Karen Gershowitz, Pushcart Prize, Resilience Stories, women poets

Related Posts

by
Previous Post Next Post