I’m Emily Hipchen Bowie.
I’m a writer and I teach and edit.
I’m based in Carrollton, GA USA.
I write creative nonfiction essays and books—my first is a memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption (2005)—as well as poetry, short stories, and scholarship. I teach college writing and literature. I edit two journals (a/b: Auto/Biography Studies and Adoption & Culture) and am on my third edited edition (first two: Identity and Antojo in the Works of Julia Alvarez  and The Routledge Auto/Biography Studies Reader ). I am one of the editors of the Female Entrepreneurs Institute website in my spare time, where I curate, edit, and write content interesting to women who found businesses. I also curate the Facebook page for the FEI. My own writing/teaching/editing website is emilyhipchen.com.
I began college training to be a cardiac surgeon. I swerved into teaching after researching surgery as a career, on the advice of counsellors and an amazing biology professor. I completed my doctorate on Jane Austen in the decade after undergrad, and was very lucky to get a job—then luckier to meet my biological family in 1999 and write a book about it. I then reinvented myself as a creative writer/editor, and found myself luckier still to find the job I’m in currently. So if it’s a path at all and not a tromp through the brambles, it’s a curvy one with lots of switchbacks.
Have you found it difficult to enter your profession as a woman?
Since teaching is already a female-filled discipline, that wasn’t so difficult, though university teaching is still—and particularly in the US South, where I work—very much a good-old-boys institution and I find that difficult.
In graduate school, I was the subject of sexual harassment that was dealt with spectacularly badly. This is just an example of how, though teaching itself is women’s work, administration (particularly upper-echelon administration where there’s power and wealth) belongs to men still, very much, again especially in the region where my job is.
Writing and editing, I haven’t yet found much difficulty—I think largely because academic/literary writing and editing is not powerful or remunerative. I do know that I find stereotypes of what women should look like and do and feel in print have been sometimes quite frustrating. I can talk about this at length as something I have to have endless conversations with students about and with which I have myself had to cope in a couple of essays. At length. It’s sort of appalling, actually.
Did you have any help during your career?
Holy cow, when didn’t I have help? First and foremost, my husband: he’s how I got through, because he listened to everything, every word I wrote, every issue I had, and helped me with understanding why things worked the way they do.
Then my colleagues, who shared projects with me, who shared ideas with me, who gave me templates to work from and who read and commented on my work, as well as included me in theirs (Devoney Looser, Becky and Joe Hogan, Cynthia Callahan, Marianne Novy, Ann Fessler, Rebecca Harrison, Nancy Chick, Martha Serpas—I know I’m missing huge lots of names).
I had great editors—all women, by the way—for all of my books (Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, the editors at SUNY and Routledge). My co-editor at a/b (Ricia Chansky) and my guest editors at Adoption & Culture assist me daily, as do my boards at both journals. My boss at the Female Entrepreneurs Institute, now CEO of Valor Ventures, almost literally saved my life this summer. I can’t be thankful enough to Lisa Calhoun and to the woman who introduced us, Jennifer Silverberg, who a long time ago was a fellow student with me at Furman University.
Then there are my teachers, particularly Ann Sharp, Phil Elliott, Willard Pate, John Burton, and many more. I am the product of hundreds of other people’s help.
What do you wish you had known when you started out?
I wish I had been the child of academics, for one: I would have understood better, earlier, how the discipline works. It might as well have been an alien planet for all I knew of it when I started, and that has meant pointless hours of frustrating work and bad decisions that I would not have made had I been on the inside from the get-go.
I used to wonder why sons went into their fathers’ businesses. I understand it now, and wish I’d had that leg-up. Then, I wish I had known my husband so much earlier. The years we might have had! How much better might the first decade of my career have gone, not to mention my subsequent life and his. If I could have only one thing different in my life, it would be that.
If you could talk to your younger self now, what would you tell them?
Stop thinking about the money. The money will always be okay. Think about the relationships instead. Think about the politics instead. Make choices based on what you will need in twenty years, not on whether something pays well now.
Who has most inspired you and why?
Jimmy Carter’s post-presidential life has been an incredible inspiration. But then I love people who stand by their values and serve others even in their own pain and when it causes them personal difficulties, particularly artists and politicians.
I’m loving this year’s version of Barack Obama; I admire Oliver Sacks and Nancy Mairs; I think about Jean Patton and BJ Lifton and Florence Fisher often, the courage it took to do that work or any work of social justice (I admire Amanda Gailey and her group, largely of women fighting for sane gun laws here in the US—though they get death threats and constant harassment, they refuse to be terrified and soldier on). I wish I could write like Eula Biss, or Rebecca Skloot, or Annie Dillard sometimes, so I suppose that’s a kind of inspiration, yes?
What tips would you give someone just starting out?
I do this all the time as a teacher. Here’s the mini-essay I wrote for a group of students two years ago:
You Will Survive Your Choices
You ate all six doughnuts. Again.
You got drunk and called your ex.
You bought a car and it doesn’t run.
You got married. Again.
You can’t get into the grad program you want.
You had a panic attack at the hairdressers.
You are now a redhead.
Your major doesn’t train you for something.
You became a Buddhist.
You decided to come to college.
You decided to leave college.
You moved to Wyoming.
You failed chemistry. Again.
You have a cigarette.
You take up with that girl you never stopped loving.
You leave her.
You decide to form a band.
You stayed out with the band the night before taking the GRE.
You will not get into any grad program at all.
You take the first job you can find.
You move in with your girlfriend.
You choose to lose your job.
On Saturdays, you watch fireflies instead of cooking dinner.
The best tip, then:
Forgive yourself and move on. If you don’t die, it will be okay. So, Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” I don’t aways believe it, not these days, but it’s an aspiration.
What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you?
“Write the second email.” I tend to write what I think (the way that I think it) in the first email, and then explain in the second because people don’t understand or get defensive. If I skip to the second email and never send the first, people listen better and I save effort. So now I try just to write the second email. Second, from my husband: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? If no one dies, stop worrying.”
What inspiring quote do you love and where does it come from?
You’d think a lit teacher would have a ton of these, but I don’t. I tend to use the first lines of “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” often (“Let us go then, you and I,/While the evening is laid out against the sky/Like a patient etherized on a table”)—mostly to get students to open their textbooks and come along into the discussion. I also like Ecclesiastes these days, and Kurt Vonnegut’s version from Slaughterhouse Five: “And so it goes.” – there is nothing new under the sun. This has all been and will be again. — I can also quote extensively from both Hamlet and Othello, but not inspiringly.
Do you use any useful apps, systems or websites that you would like to share?
Not really. Other people will know more about this, I imagine. I kind of like the smell and feel of paper, Luddite that I am. I only use my Kindle app when I travel to save weight. Oh, I am teaching myself Spanish using Duolingo, though! I do like that app.