Elisabeth Cohen ’99 published her first novel May 22, a humorous story about a Silicon Valley CEO and mother who hits a few glitches.
Cohen, a comparative literature major at Princeton, wrote a creative thesis under adviser Edmund White, who encouraged her to apply for graduate school. She received her MFA at Johns Hopkins University, but writing was put on the backburner as Cohen began working, got married, and had kids. She returned to writing in the fall of 2013 — a time when she was thinking often about her friends, many from Princeton, whose lives had shifted once they graduated and had kids, some with special needs, and husbands whose work demanded they travel often. Anne Marie Slaughter ’80 had just published her article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” about how she once thought that women could do everything — have a family, a full-time job — until a new career changed her mind. Marissa Mayer was also in the news often for becoming the CEO of Yahoo while she was pregnant.
“It was becoming clear to me why women don’t become CEOs of companies,” Cohen said. “Even though women have made great strides and are much more in the workforce in high powered positions, there just comes a point when even my most ambitious friends were starting to come up against problems that were making it really hard for them to remain ambitious. I had some friends who I expected to stay as ambitious as they always had been, and it became sobering to see them change gears later in their lives.”
Cohen still didn’t know where her thoughts lay in all of this — but she considered it “fertile ground for writing, a way of trying to make sense of things.” The main character in her novel is not based on herself, though she faces many of the obstacles understood by working women and the things they have to sacrifice to balance several responsibilities. Her book is a funny take on the private pressures women face juggling demanding jobs and a family. Cohen wanted to raise the question, “What keeps the ambition burning?”
She started writing a little bit each day, mostly in the early mornings before her kids woke up. During the majority of her writing, Cohen was working a full-time job at a nonprofit. After the book was mostly finished, she spent a summer taking apart and reworking the ending, with the help of her agent. The book sold to a Doubleday Publishing within days of its release on the market.
The Glitch reached shelves yesterday, and Cohen will soon start touring in the mid-Atlantic around Philadelphia, D.C., and New Jersey (she’s considering an event in Princeton). Cohen has started writing a second novel and hopes that she will have many more in her future.