Elisabeth Egan is a woman of many words, but today we are talking about her ability to be very concise — just enough words to fit on a postcard, to be exact. She is a novelist and the books editor for Glamour magazine, with essays published on The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post and Huffington Post (just to name a few). But her latest personal project speaks directly to the state of the world, positing the hard questions of how our political officials are exercising their power — with a mostly respectful, but not always, bent.
She directly addresses each recipient (including but not limited to Donald, Melania and Ivanka Trump, Governor Rick Scott, Senator Susan Collins) and yes, she really does send each and every postcard. Though she says, “I’m realistic about the fact that I’m not probably moving the needle on any significant change,” we beg to differ. Egan expertly uses her craft and the platform Instagram affords to call out injustice and moral failings, shining a light on issues that bear responsibility.
Her @100postcards project was born from the Women’s March founders call-to-action, asking women to write postcards to elected officials. Egan began and never stopped. We sat down with the prolific author to ask her about her project and the way in which she is using her voice, and her words, for good.
I stumbled upon @100postcards at the very beginning and have feverishly followed along ever since — I love your voice and the light you shine on current political happenings. Would you tell me about the impetus for your project?
Well, I went to the Women’s March in Washington with my daughter, who was 18 at the time, and I found the experience very exhilarating and optimistic, and, I wouldn’t say life changing, but definitely uplifting. And then I woke up the next morning and felt this incredible feeling of we’re still in this moment. And we still have this resonance, and we’re stuck with it. And it was just a huge downer. That was the day Sean Spicer [former White House Press Secretary] was talking about the crowd sizes and the inauguration and Kellyanne Conway [counselor to the president] was talking about alternate facts. So I thought, what can I do?
The first postcard I wrote was to Corey Booker, who was one of my senators. It felt good. It felt like I was actually doing something even though I wasn’t sure if he would actually get it or if it would make a difference. Right after the Women’s March the founders put out this call to send postcards. That’s how I got the idea in the first place to send a postcard. And I thought, I’m going to send one postcard a day for the first 100 days of this administration. Which I did, and after that I stopped doing it every day, but I continued on and am still writing. I am a writer so for me writing is, kind of, therapeutic, which is not a word I use lightly. And I also am very proud of my handwriting!
Have you always considered yourself politically outspoken? If not, why now?
No! I have never ever been political. I never before 2016 voted for anything more than president and maybe governor. I never voted in a midterm, I never paid attention, I thought somebody else had it covered. Well, guess what, they didn’t. And that is a huge regret of mine, that I wasn’t more involved. So now I think there are so many people like me that just woke up and said if not my problem, who’s is it? And I’m not pretending to be solving anything with these postcards but it keeps me accountable. I’ve always read the newspaper every day, I’ve known what was going on but I always felt like it was somebody else’s news that I was just absorbing.
I do think, not that we should be drawing any conclusions of silver-lining situations from what’s going on politically, but I would say I’ve acted the same in the past. And so much of what I’m experiencing, your experiencing, so many women are experiencing all over the country is this resurgence of wanting to pay attention and be involved, and I do think this is a very fascinating and perhaps an uplifting piece of it.
I agree. I won’t go back. Even if Obama was elected again, I won’t go back to the old way. I remember when Obamacare was being voted on — I have a friend who is quite conservative and I remember she was really up-in-arms because her husband owns a small business and I remember thinking, what is she talking about? It’s Obama’s thing, of course it’s good. But I wish I had educated myself a little bit more, a lot more, actually. Now I know I have.
How do you determine which issue/sound bite/person to address?
I just get a feeling. There are certain topics I follow more closely personally — anything to do with education and kids. I was prodded a few times by friends to write to Scott Pruitt [former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency], and as much as I care about the environment I wasn’t taking on the environment as a cause. But I did, and I do try to broaden my horizons. Sometimes I feel like I jump on the bandwagon but I do try to do my homework and not just go with the tide. I get a lot of news alerts and I just pay attention to that feeling: I can’t stop thinking about this, I need to write about it.
I love your tagline Mostly respectful, but not always. Why is it important to remain “mostly respectful” in today’s heated political climate?
I was inspired by Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention: When they go low, we go high. I’m also sort of a born-and-bred rule girl. But I feel less like that than I did two years ago, to be honest. A lot of the time I discuss things with my mom, who shares the same political views, but she is less outraged and she says, You need to calm down, take a deep breath and I think, I don’t need to calm down.
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Because I’m not one of the people whose rights are at risk. I’m not an immigrant, I’m not living in a community where we worry about sending our kids to school — although maybe we should all worry about that. But I’ve become more comfortable with being disrespectful. Or more comfortable with speaking my mind and less concerned about offending people.
How does it feel to be able to use your craft (i.e. the written word) as a form of resistance?
I just feel like it’s this thing I do! I wake up early in the morning and take a picture of a postcard I wrote and put it on Instagram. I’m realistic about the fact that I’m not probably moving the needle on any significant change. But one of the reasons I think Instagram is a good tool for activism is because I really think that the more people who like a post, if the person who is tagged in the post is paying any attention or if the person who handles their social media is paying attention, they might in some little corner of their mind say, Wow, this post about Betsy DeVos’s yacht got 600 likes (or whatever it may be). And that may mean something.
I don’t fool myself into thinking that Donald Trump is checking what he’s been tagged in and how many people have liked it, but I feel like some awareness raising and community building is a good thing.
What do you think about Instagram as a platform for magnifying women’s voices that wouldn’t have otherwise been heard?
I’m all for it! People talk so much about how social media is used to show how perfect everyone’s live are — but I’ve never been in a circle of friends that have used it that way. So I think it’s just nice to know that strangers are following @100postcards along and saying, I can’t believe this is happening. And not just on my account but on so many others. It’s pretty cool.
What advice do you have for women who want to raise their voice?
I would say don’t be shy. I kept waiting for an invitation for someone to say, we’d really love you to write a piece about children being separated from their parents, but there’s no invitation. You just have to jump in — there’s all kinds of writing, for me, and ways for you.
What are your goals with this project? Any proud moments thus far?
I’m very proud Belinda Carlisle follows me! She’s an old favorite of mine from way back. My big goal, well I have written a book, but I’ve occasionally thought about making all the postcards into a book. But for me, personally, every 100 postcards I make into a photobook. And that is satisfying as I see my kids thumbing through them. But I do wonder, will I stop doing this when Trump is no longer in office? Now it just feels like something I do.
Do you feel you've grown as a writer, or even as a woman, in this political climate by committing to this exercise of voicing your concerns?
I do. I feel like I’ve become more educated. As a writer, I’ve become much more adept at writing succinctly and in small spaces. Not just physically, but I now know exactly how many words can fit on a postcard. And in my magazine life, that’s really helpful! I’m an expert at cutting words now, and knowing how much can I say in few words.
Do you actually send the postcards? Any responses?
I do! I really do. And no replies. I have a fellow school parent who is running for Congress in New Jersey and I have friends who work on her campaign — I sent her a postcard after she won the primary and my friend said I need to write you back. And I said, don’t write me back! I kind of love that I’ve never received a response. But to be fair, I don’t put my address on the postcards but if someone was really intent on finding me I’m sure the White House could track me down.