If you're not a huge Jill Lepore fan already, you should be — the Harvard Americanist and frequent New Yorker contributor's writing is both whip-smart and accessible (Read her on Planned Parenthood and gun control right away.)
One might assume Lepore was a teenage overachiever judging by her passion for details, but the story of how she became a renowned writer and Harvard professor of "microhistory" didn't unfold so predictably. Lepore considered herself a jock at Tufts — she was there on an army scholarship — and focused more on sports than studies until a former teacher sent her a letter in the mail from her fourteen-year-old self. From Francesca Mari's Dissent piece:
"It was a very scary letter," Lepore said in an interview with Humanities magazine. The letter had been sent by her high school English teacher, who, as promised, had held on to it for five years. "It said, more or less, ‘What the hell are you doing?' And it went on like that, scolding, berating."
(Note: just remembered my dance teacher made us do this in 9th grade and I hope she actually sends it to me one day. Although it was probably less inspirational and more about Adam Pascal from Rent.)
Lepore switched her major from math to English, but still didn't know how to become a writer:
Working as a secretary at the Harvard Business School, she wrote stories in between answering the phone and paying her boss's $18,000 credit card bills-a routine that continued until the day the "Manpower people" came to her desk with a huge bouquet of flowers in a crystal vase and informed her that she had won the Tiffany Award for best secretary. Oh no, she thought, this isn't me, and she quit her job and applied to graduate school. From there on, the course of her life is-quite literally-history.
Read more about Lepore and microhistory, "an increasingly popular genre of social history that moves from the thin abstractions of social structures to the thick particularities of an individual's life," at Dissent.
(Photo via Harvard.edu)