Romm (MFA Program/Warren Wilson Coll.; The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks, 2009, etc.) gathers essays by successful women about the meaning of ambition in their lives.
In this collection, women from professions as varied as teaching, writing, acting, butchering, and dog sledding discuss “the double bind” of female ambition. While many among them have desired success, ambition has been accompanied by ambivalence regarding “impulses and actions…that felt less pretty or tidy than the façade they wanted to project.” Clinical psychologist and professor Yael Chatav Schonbrun, for example, focuses on the sacrifices she made to be a researcher and mother. “The concepts of ‘ambitious’ and ‘part time’ seem to be a schematic mismatch,” she writes, an idea political science professor Elizabeth Corey echoes in her essay, “No Happy Harmony.” For her, the work/life double bind for women gives rise to a “conflict in the soul [that] does not go away.” Writer Ayana Mathis discusses how, as a black woman, being ambitious is not just a matter of “leaning in.” It is about learning how to navigate success that is not a given because of her social and ethnic identity. Actress Molly Ringwald reveals how outspokenness about her desire for stardom garnered criticism to “know [her] place.” Hollywood ageism ultimately limited her acting ambitions but also freed her to pursue other interests. By contrast, former magazine editor Camas Davis learned butchery out of a need to reinvent herself after job loss. The fact that “no one had ever bothered to…assess [her] skills,” however, made Davis feel like an imposter who could not fully embrace her eventual notoriety. Musher Blair Braverman’s relationship to ambition came as a surprise. She writes that although she started out as a dog handler, a desire to win races in a male-dominated sport invigorated her. Romm’s collection, which also includes contributions from Roxane Gay, Francine Prose, and others, is a welcome addition to the discourse on a topic that rarely receives the kind of honest and wide-ranging consideration these essays offer.
A thoughtfully provocative anthology.