Hoya Highlight: Maureen Pratt (I’81)

Maureen Pratt

Author, Speaker, and Syndicated Columnist for Catholic News Service

How did you find your path to writing?

After graduating from Georgetown, I obtained my Master of Fine Arts in Theater from UCLA. I remained in Hollywood, writing, working a day job, and directing an African-American gospel choir at a Catholic church in South Los Angeles. It was during this time that I was diagnosed with lupus. The initial flare nearly killed me, but the diagnosis brought with it an incredible perspective on the preciousness of time, energy, and the fragility of life. I’d always loved to write, but I really started to think about what I could contribute to the world with the limited time I thought I had... How could I help others who were struggling with disability and chronic suffering? Writing enables me to express my faith and, I hope, encourage others that, no matter how difficult our challenges are, we can find peace and strength within.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

I fell in love with Georgetown and D.C. when I visited campus and the city in high school. Coming here helped me become fluent culturally as well as linguistically (I was a Ling/Lang major), and this fluency has helped me to not only understand the different languages people speak, but also to understand people on a deeper level.

The Jesuit tradition encourages a strong culture of community service, and that resonated with me very clearly. There was a genuine commitment to something beyond ourselves that was modeled here at Georgetown, and that has stayed with me as I’ve moved through my life.

Ultimately, something Fr. Healy told our class at freshman orientation has really stuck with me: He said, “If you are afraid of new ideas, this is not the place for you.” It was a charge to us, a gauntlet being thrown down, and this challenge has helped inform my ways of dealing with and thinking about disability and suffering.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Finding my niche and doing something good in the world that allows me to help others and to live out my faith. Holding each new book and sharing it with others is a joy, too!

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

Every Georgetown student enters Georgetown thinking that they want to make a difference in the world, in their field, in life somehow. I was like that too. But, it took me a while to understand that the real way you make a difference in the world is by getting out of your own way and finding the need that you uniquely can fulfill for others.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

In addition to the words from Fr. Healy that I mentioned earlier, the other piece of advice I cherish came from a Georgetown graduate who I worked for during my senior year. I was complaining about my courseload, and he said, “Get as much education and learn as much as you can throughout life, becasue of all things you can acquire, education is the one thing that can never be taken away from you.” In dealing with lupus, I’ve had some incredibly low points. But, even when I am completely confined from a flare or other health issues, I read and work to exercise my brain as much as possible.

Favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

“Problem of God” with Fr. King. He was a fantastic teacher and liturgist. And my medieval history class with Dr. Jo Ann Moran-Cruz, who still teaches at Georgetown.

Favorite Georgetown memory?

Georgetown made me fall in love with my faith. As a child and teenager, I’d been catastrophically ill many times, so I was very lucky to be alive and well enough to attend college. At Georgetown, I quickly joined and became active with the faith community, especially the 5:15 p.m. Saturday liturgy in Dahlgren and other activities in Campus Ministry. Georgetown inspired me to see how faith flows through everything we do.

Who or what is a source of inspiration and strength in your life and why?

My faith sustains me each day, and friends and family are wonderful blessings. Also, my readers are a great source of inspiration—I love hearing from them! No coincidence that I often hear from them right when I’m feeling down or going through a particularly difficult or painful time. Hearing the challenges others are going through, or reading that my writing has helped others is a great source of strength. It reminds me to continue trying to do as much good on the “good days” as I possibly can.

What is on your desk when you write?

Honestly, a lot of my writing happens away from my desk—in the doctor’s office while I’m waiting to be seen, or just anywhere throughout the day. I always keep a notebook with me so I can easly jot down ideas and phrases. Then, when what I’m working on has percolated, I sit down at my desk and write very quickly. When I’m working on something that requires research or amassing different ideas, I keep file folders for each of the pieces I’m working on, and to these files I add snipets from newspapers or the internet, interviews I’ve done, or my own musings. The folders eventually house all parts of the piece I’m writing. Some things on my desk besides folders and notes are: A copy of the prayer ‘Anima Christi,’ a rosary, and a piece of rough rock with turquoise and crystal embedded in it to remind me of the beauty that is present within something tough or challenging.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Though I’m sure you’ve heard the edict “write every day!” I do not follow this in a traditional sense with fingers to the keyboard. But, what I do do every day is to look at the world as a writer and think as a writer, being particularly mindful of details everywhere I go (colors, smells, how my foot feels agains the gas pedal, the nuance of someone’s voice, the moments when God’s presence seems almost tangible, etc.)... I also encourage aspiring writers to take lots of time with writing; as we give a piece time to mature and breathe, we allow it to develop more and better depth.

Who is your favorite author?

Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being is an incredible book. In it are O’Connor’s letters to friends and editors in which she talks about writing, faith, and lupus (she lived with the disease almost her entire life) with a brilliant sense of humor.

Words to live by?

Every day, start with gratitude and by drawing God close in a prayer or in a quiet moment for yourself. From there, look for the needs of others, and find what is different and unique within yourself that resonates with and helps to meet those needs.