Success Comes In Many Different Forms

Irena Smith Author Interview

The Golden Ticket is a memoir told from the perspective of answering college essay prompts. This approach ties into your background and career path, presenting your story in a unique fashion. Why was it important to tell your story?  

I wrote The Golden Ticket because I wanted to address the disconnect—chasm, really— between my professional life and my home life.

At work, I counseled students on how to tell their best story and to gain admission to some of the most selective colleges in the world; at home, my husband and I were struggling to raise three children with developmental delays, depression, anxiety, and learning differences.

In Palo Alto, where we live, everyone talks about getting into college (and not just any college, but the good kind), which doesn’t leave much room for conversations about kids who aren’t ready for college, or don’t want to go, or might be struggling with challenges that go beyond deciding which top 20 school they’ll apply to.

In telling both parts of my story, I wanted to provide a larger context for what Frank Bruni calls “Yale or jail” thinking about success—and to open a broader conversation about what it means to be successful or to lead a meaningful life. Not every success story ends with the name of a prestigious college on the back of a late-model luxury car.

I appreciated the candid nature with which you told your story. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

By far the most difficult thing was describing the struggles each of my children faced. There is nothing more painful than being a parent and feeling powerless to address the challenges your children are facing. Revisiting those moments was agonizing, but I also felt strongly that chronicling what we went through as a family would help other families feel recognized and less alone.

What is one piece of advice someone gave you that changed your life?

One of my improv teachers often told me to “say the thing.” I have a tendency to tiptoe around whatever my character’s motivation or thinking might be, and he always encouraged me to just blurt it out. I now have a ring engraved with the words “say the thing” as a reminder.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from your story?

That success comes in many different forms at different stages of your life—and that there is, in fact, no golden ticket.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Every fall, millions of high school seniors agonize over what to write in their college application essays. In a timely, incisive memoir that blends humor and heartache, Irena Smith takes a stab at answering them as an adult.

Irena is a Russian Jewish immigrant, a PhD in comparative literature, a former Stanford admissions officer, and a private college counselor in Palo Alto, California—a city where everyone has to be good at something and where success often means the name of a prestigious college on the back of a late-model luxury car. But as Irena works with some of the most ambitious, tightly wound students in the world, she struggles to keep her own family from unraveling, and that sharp-edged divide lies at the heart of her memoir.

The Golden Ticket is narrated using a form Irena knows best: college application essay prompts. In her responses, Irena weaves together personal history, sharp social commentary, and the lessons of literature ranging from The Odyssey to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Her memoir asks difficult questions—What exactly do parents mean when they say they want the best for their children? What happens when the best of intentions result in unexpected consequences?—and envisions a broader, more generous view of what it means to succeed. 

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on May 21, 2023, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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