Interview by Nina Lesowitz
WNBA-SF Board member Sharon McElhone became obsessed with writing at 18 years old after reading a life-altering novel and has been writing articles, poems, and essays ever since. Today, her seventh book is nearing completion.
“I found my way into journalism sixteen years ago through an internship at La Oferta, a bilingual newspaper. The editors, Mary and Tatiana Andrade, have been great friends and mentors. After my first assignment of copy-editing, they moved me to covering local politics and interviewing candidates. Then they gave me a column. The column is entitled ‘The Middle Class-Our Engine’ and is dedicated to middle-class Americans. It is also offered in English and Spanish.
“Mary Andrade published my first poem in La Oferta about a year after I started working as a journalist. It was about the death of my mother’s long-time gardener, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. He was sort of a father figure since my mother was a single mother. To date, I’ve written four collections of poetry. Most of my work centers around what it’s like to be a woman living with an artificially imposed set of societal standards and also describes the hardship of American motherhood without access to childcare and equal rights.”
Tell Us about the anthology BASTA!
“BASTA! 100+ Latinas Against Gender Violence began in Chile as a movement to create awareness about violence against women. Each anthology is tied to a country and the series continues to make its way around the world. The BASTA! anthology that has been published here in the States contains the short stories of one hundred Latina writers from the U.S. One of those stories is mine. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to be part of Dr. Emma Sepulveda Pulvirenti’s work. She is the editor of the U.S. anthology. Putting this series together highlights the very real issue for women around the world. All proceeds from the book, which was published by the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, go to help organizations addressing violence against women. Dr. Pulvirenti makes no money from sales and neither do any of the writers.”
Do you have any insight or advice for fellow members about your writing process?
“The process for me developed over time. It’s like exercise: if you force yourself to do it and it’s not enjoyable then most likely you will find it hard to continue. So I try to be patient and make it something that is pleasurable. It’s very relaxing to me to write. It’s a way to release tension or answer questions when a writer can disappear into work that has meaning. Also, it shouldn’t matter if someone else appreciates the work or not. Of course, writers like to have readers, but writers should write for themselves first in my opinion. It gives the work meaning. One shouldn’t force writing, instead stick to a schedule that works for that week, month, or year since schedules change. Enjoy the process, then send your work out.
“Currently, I’m working on a book of essays about the lack of affordable childcare in America and how it impacts a typical American family, especially a mother. Poverty is closely tied to the inability to work and if women are responsible for childcare, they have to negotiate a more complicated environment and can’t always work. Throughout history, we have placed a tremendous burden on women to carry the load of childcare and then ask why so many women and children are the poorest demographic and why so much violence. There is simply a lack of introspection in America, and we need to do better.
“The years roll on, and I see how much America is failing mothers and families by overlooking issues like childcare and the significance of diversity. As a longtime journalist, I can safely say that neither policymakers nor major news outlets view childcare as a major issue to address. My questions, as a journalist, related to the issue, too often are met with blank stares, scoffing, or lip service. But addressing the issue means a change in our wellbeing as Americans. Fortunately, La Oferta gives me a lot of leeway, and they have always supported my work.
Hopefully, policymakers and major news outlets will awaken soon to the problem of affordable childcare, as they did to the issue of sexual abuse after the #metoo and #Timesup movement took hold. Sadly, it took the recognition of so many women being abused before speaking out against harassment and sexual abuse became a movement. That’s reactive, not proactive. These movements need to translate into policy and social change. Issues facing mothers and families will continue to be the focus of my work. I’m also wrapping up a collection of short stories about multi-cultural families.”
WNBA-SF Board member Sharon McElhone is a journalist, columnist, and author. She is half Ecuadorian and half Irish and lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and children. She is working on a memoir related to childcare, a novel, and a fourth collection of poems.