How Alum Rebecca Solnit Became a Writer, Historian, Activist

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

COSMOPOLITAN -- I worked a few days a week at a clothing store to start saving money for my long-term project, which was leaving home. I saw a poster with one of those cards you could send off: Go to school in Paris! I scrounged up enough money to cover my first year, which included borrowing money from one of my brothers because my parents wouldn’t cosign a student loan. They didn’t participate much in my life from that point onward, financially or otherwise.

I was in Paris for three semesters. I won a scholarship to go back but I’d run out of savings. I finished up at San Francisco State University. I was an English major, which taught me to read critically and at least to write your basic paper. I realized that I knew how to read but I still didn’t know how to write.

When I was 21, I went to the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. I was hoping to learn how to write for this deep vocation I had. I got practical skills that made me somewhat employable, but there was also a real emphasis on ethics and the responsibility you have — to who you write about, to the public and to the historical record — that I’ve always been grateful for.