M ickey Rapkin, author of Pitch Perfect and Theater Geek, was the keynote speaker at the 2011 Horace Greeley Writers’ Conference in Poultney this past weekend.
His message to those who aspire to be published: “believe in yourself.” Rapkin recounted his journey to become a writer and told how he overcame several self-imposed detours along the way. After initially registering as an economics major in college, he quickly realized that it was a bad choice for him and instead focused on writing. Straight out of college he worked briefly as a kindergarten teacher in Madrid, Spain, with similar results: “I was horrible at it!” Finally realizing that pursuing something other than writing was not fulfilling, he dedicated himself to becoming a writer in the highly competitive New York City job market.
Making the most of chance opportunities, Rapkin secured a job at Details magazine. There he got into a groove of writing and pitching stories and became comfortable in his voice. He also worked through frustrating experiences in the publishing world, including having his first book manuscript stopped at the last minute due to the subject’s reluctance to have the story published.
Rapkin stayed positive: “I refuse[d] to let this be the last time someone lets me write a book.” After some soul-searching, he wrote another book proposal that was accepted and ultimately published. That book, Pitch Perfect, follows three collegiate a cappella groups through their competition season and was before the popularity of the TV show Glee. The movie version of his book is scheduled to start filming within the month. His second book, Theater Geek, tells the stories of students at New York’s Stagedoor Manor, a summer camp for young actors that has turned out such stars as Jon Cryer and Natalie Portman. Rapkin was inspired by the camp’s inhabitants: “for three weeks, they’re exactly who they want to be.”
Rapkin believes that part of his success can be credited to his following and writing about what personally interests him and encouraged aspiring writers to maintain their natural curiosity about the world. His take on journalism: “finding a home, belonging, is what all great stories are about.” He also noted that the personality of a born writer is someone who is compelled to keep writing, to not have their last published effort be their last work.
Rapkin strongly encouraged writers to take a leap of faith: “the best thing I ever did…was take a chance.”
The Horace Greeley Writers’ Conference is an annual event hosted by the Horace Greeley Foundation. Other speakers included journal writing instructor Joanna Tebbs Young, publisher John Manchester, playwright Burnham Holmes and poet David Mook. For more information about the Horace Greeley Writers’ Conference, visit thegreeleyfoundation.org. For more information about Mickey Rapkin, visit mickeyrapkin.com.