Last Tuesday, Feb. 1, Merritt Tierce was invited to speak at the Gund Community Theater on her experiences as a novelist and female writer in Hollywood. Her talk, titled “Women in the Writer’s Room,” took a deep dive into difficult topics such as abortion and the complexities of finding a voice in a male-dominated industry.
Tierce is a celebrated writer. Her novel Love Me Back was named a “Best Book” of 2014 by the Chicago Tribune. She also wrote for the last two seasons of Orange is the New Black, as well as Social Distance, a Netflix-based anthology filmed in isolation during COVID-19. Tierce earned her MFA at the prestigious University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, and her work has appeared in numerous esteemed magazines and publications, such as Oxford American and Cosmopolitan. Tierce is also an outspoken women’s rights advocate, and has advocated for the pro-choice movement, serving as the executive director for the Texas Equal Access Fund.
Laurie Fink, professor of women’s and gender studies at Kenyon, moderated the interview. The talk was about an hour long and consisted of a discussion followed by a Q&A session with the audience, which was made up of classes that had previously read her work. The majority of the discussion was about Tierce’s essay, “The Abortion I Didn’t Have,” which was published recently in the New York Times Magazine. The essay is an extremely personal story about her experience with an unplanned pregnancy at 19 and how her religious background informed her choices. Fink and Tierce talked about shared experiences growing up religious and how it impacted the way they perceive womanhood and femininity.
Tierce talked not only about the writing process, but also the emotional journey that allowed her to publish such a deeply personal essay. The piece took her a year to write, although she initially decided against publishing it due to concern about the reactions of her son and parents. After some time, the New York Times reached out to ask if they could include her story in an issue of their magazine. Tierce was encouraged by friends and supporters, she told Amanpour and Company in an interview: “Everyone said this is a perspective we don’t hear enough and these ideas need to be out there, because the conversation as it is is so black and white and so polarized.”
Part of Tierce’s goal with the essay was to provide an insight into how ineffective it is to simply ban abortion, stigmatize sex and restrict birth control methods. She strongly argues that sharing real stories is one of the most effective ways to convince people of something so controversial, since it forces the reader or listener into a position of empathy.