Author and Social Commentator Fran Lebowitz Shares Stories, Insights During Meeting with University Students

Fran Lebowitz meets with students in the Atrium

The author and social observer Fran Lebowitz shared her thoughts on writing—and her opinions on a wide range of topics—in a conversation with a group of William Paterson University undergraduate and graduate students on February 22.

Lebowitz, whose writing career began in the early 1970s when she was hired as a columnist for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, told the students her biggest challenge as a writer “is writing.”

“I’m so surprised at all the free writing that everyone is doing,” she said, referring to the internet and social media. Known for her struggle with writer’s block for decades, she added, “Every time I sit down and look at my books, I have no idea how I did it. When people tell me, ‘I love to write,’ I think, ‘You must be a horrible writer, because it’s not pleasurable.’”

The small event with students, held in the Atrium prior to Lebowitz’s Distinguished Lecturer Series address that evening in Shea Center, provided the undergraduate journalism students and master’s degree students studying professional communication and creative non-fiction with the opportunity to meet and talk with the noted author.

In response to questions from the students, she weighed in with her opinions on New York’s Times Square (“if you turn the center of New York into something not like New York, people will come”) and her affinity for Levi’s jeans (“I can’t believe I ever wrote about jeans, but yes, I wear them”).

When asked about the impact of social media on today’s landscape, Lebowitz, who says she only has a landline phone and is not on social media, expressed her concerns. “People have always had opinions, but they didn’t have the ability to share them,” she said. “It encourages the very rapid spread of bad ideas, which is very dangerous. Good ideas take centuries.”

The students in attendance said it was a positive experience. “It was intimidating at first meeting someone so opinionated and outspoken but she is a very funny and down to earth person,” said Isabel Birritteri ‘24, a junior majoring in media production with a minor in journalism. “Her advice about writing and her worldview were incredibly interesting. It was an honor to meet her."

Beatrice Amune ’23, who will graduate with a master’s degree in professional communication in May, agreed. “She said she has ‘excessive reverence for the written word.’ I will never look at writing the same way after hearing her speak,” Amune added. “I am challenged to do more when it comes to writing. Her ascerbic stance on issues provide very interesting perspectives. It’s wonderful to see a public figure who is not afraid to speak what is on their mind. I consider meeting her a wonderful privilege.” 

This year marked the 41st season of William Paterson’s Distinguished Lecturer Series, which brings leading personalities from the worlds of politics, government, the arts, literature, sports, science, and business, along with original programs, to campus. More than 175 public figures, including British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, actor and playwright Anna Deveare Smith, former New York Yankee and musician Bernie Williams, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, have spoken on campus as part of the series.