BA 1996, Political Science
Author, Lake Forest, IL
Jen Lancaster is nothing if not honest. She’s always shared that her start at Purdue was less than stellar, and that she dropped out, only to return and graduate with honors in her new major, political science. And it was losing her corporate job in 2001, leaving her scrambling for work and writing a blog about being unemployed, that led to her career as a writer.
Don’t let those early stumbles fool you. Lancaster, a prolific author, has written seven memoirs and three novels since 2005, as well as several magazine articles and, for a time, a syndicated newspaper column. Last fall, her memoir The Tao of Martha was optioned to create a pilot that eventually sold to FOX. “Although the series didn’t make it to the air (at least yet),” she notes, “this brush with Hollywood has totally given me the screenwriting bug and I have scripts in progress!”
There’s no question that Lancaster is productive. But it was a barrage of interruptions one day during a nap that revealed just how successful she’s become. “I was on my first real book tour for my third memoir,” she recalls. “I was seven cities into a 21-stop tour and I was shocked by how many people were coming to my events. As exciting as it was to have a signing where more than ten people showed up, these massive events were taking a toll on me and all I wanted was to rest in my Dallas hotel room before an evening event. Desperate for sleep, when my cell phone began to ring, I ignored it, and did the same with the ping of incoming emails and texts. When the room phone rang repeatedly, I figured there was an emergency, so I finally answered. My agent, editor, and publisher were all on the line to tell me that my book had debuted on The New York Times bestseller list! That’s when I knew the game had changed… and that I wasn’t getting any sleep until the tour was over.”
Let’s be honest—I wasn’t terribly mature when I came to Purdue, so my academic performance wasn’t noteworthy in the beginning. I didn’t begin to focus until the 1992 election inspired me to change my major to political science. Suddenly, every single class I took was the most interesting thing in the world. I was fascinated by Professor Louis Beres’s theories about terrorism and inspired by Professor Robert Melson’s take on the Holocaust. Professor Floyd Hayes III drove me to push my own boundaries in public policy and Professor Michael Weinstein refused to accept anything less than excellence from his students. Although I didn’t pursue a career in poli sci, the work ethic I developed under these instructors served and continues to serve me well as a professional.
I have so many great memories, so for our purposes, I’ll winnow them down to one. When I started at Purdue, football season tickets were included in the price of tuition, so I’ll never forget those Saturdays when every single person on campus was at Ross-Ade, clad in a sea of matching t-shirts and, in some cases, pith helmets. And who could forget the celebratory dunk in the old Loeb Fountain?
The people made Purdue special. I mean, I married my college boyfriend and I’m still best friends with my freshman roommate! Had it not been for the caliber of students Purdue attracted, my life might be very different right now.
I recently had the chance to chat with Mitch Daniels and I’m so excited to have him leading the University now! While moving Purdue forward, he still understands exactly how important tradition is, and that’s really the key.
I live by the credo that my greatest achievement is yet to come. The minute I’m satisfied with what I’ve achieved is the minute I stop swinging for the fences.
Person I Admire
While I admire many people, I tend to achieve my personal best by quietly pitting myself against a nemesis. Sure, everyone needs somebody to love, but if you really want to accomplish something, find someone to hate.
Idea of Perfect Happiness
Good company, a charged Kindle with a splash-proof cover, and slushy drinks, served midday on a sunny beach. (Doesn’t matter where—I’m not terribly picky.)
What I’m Reading
I’m currently enjoying Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I’m heading to Savannah soon for a girls’ weekend and my friend insists that this is required reading.
Profession I’d Like to Try
At some point in my life, I plan to work in antiques. I’ve become such a collector that at some point, I’ll likely turn my passion into a business… probably much like I did with my writing.
Photo by Jeremy Lawson