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Alumna Spotlight: Sarah Lawson

UVA alumna Sarah Lawson serves as the Assistant Director of the Center for the Book at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and works on one of our favorite Charlottesville and UVA traditions: Virginia Festival of the Book. During her time as a student at the University, she interned for Iris, which she says helped spark her interest in publishing and design.

1) When did you attend UVA? What did you study?
I attended UVA as an undergraduate between 2002 and 2006, graduating with a bachelor's in Media Studies. 

2) What work did you do with the Women’s Center? How did it prepare you for what you are doing today?
While doing my undergraduate studies, I took a Studies in Women & Gender (SWAG) class that involved informal intern work with Iris, which I greatly enjoyed and which got me interested in publishing and design. I greatly enjoyed working on the layout and design of the magazine and learning from amazingly creative and talented women during that time. Working with Iris was really one of my first exposures to the hands-on production of print media, and that's been a field that I've stayed in ever since. I worked in commercial publishing in New York after graduation and have since moved back to Charlottesville where I'm the assistant director of the Virginia Center for the Book, which puts on the annual Virginia Festival of the Book each March. Further, I continue to indulge my interest in hands-on production and design by being a member artist at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, located here in Charlottesville as well. 

3) Whose work inspires you to work harder or think differently? 
Great question! Reading or otherwise engaging with the writings and work of people who are doing work that's interesting or challenging to me is my preferred method for keeping me on my toes, motivated, and open to new ideas. The Virginia Festival of the Book is a dream job in this respect, as we bring hundreds of speakers to town every year to speak about new, published work, and we get to read all of it and then attend the public panels between the authors to further explore topics from black feminism (for example, Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor will be at the Festival in March 2018) to the LGBTQ experience in Sri Lankan-American families (for example, SJ Sindu will be here in March for the Festival as well). 

4) Work/life fit: how do you practice that? 
Oh, I find work/life fit to be such a struggle! Especially since I have a job that intersects with so many of my personal interests, it's often difficult to tear myself away from that to practice self-care. I find that having a dog helps tremendously though, as he'll remind me when I've been at my laptop too long and need to go romp with him the woods. Having a caring and sympathetic partner—who understands that sometimes I need to work until 10 p.m., but sometimes I need to be cajoled away from work to watch something silly and curl up on the couch together—also helps a great deal.

5) How has your view of yourself as a feminist or your view of feminism changed over time? 
I mean, how hasn't it? I never thought of myself as a feminist 20 years ago, and even now I feel like I have so much to learn and so many perspectives to seek to better understand.

6) Looking back, what advice would you give your former, intern-self?
I'd let her know that it's okay to take a break and to embrace failure. As an undergrad, I struggled a lot with perfectionism and pushed myself too hard to be an overachiever. I think a lot of UVA students do. But, I look back and I see the moments when I paused to reconnect with myself and my needs/desires or even fell flat on my face and had to admit defeat ... those were the moments where I really grew and became who I am today.   

7) Any worldly wisdom/advice for our students? 
Pursue whatever it is that wakes you up in the morning feeling energized to do more. Regardless of whether it pays enough or whether it builds your resume in a traditional sense, it will be more rewarding personally than you can ever imagine and it will lead you to places you could never foresee or anticipate.


Join your friends from the Women's Center at the Virginia Festival of the Book!

We're excited to co-host The Fight for Women's Right to Vote (March 24 at 4 pm) during the Virginia Festival of the Book. Our colleague Cori Field of UVA's Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality will moderate a discussion with Johanna Neuman (Gilded Suffragists) and Elaine Weiss (The Woman’s Hour). The down-to-the-wire campaign to for suffrage nearly one hundred years ago continues to resonate today. Margot Lee Shetterly, UVA alumna and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Hidden Figures, has noted that “Anyone interested in the history of our country’s ongoing fight to put its founding values into practice–as well as those seeking the roots of current political fault lines–would be well-served by picking up The Woman’s Hour.” 

The full schedule of Virginia Festival of the Book events taking place March 21-25, 2018 is at Use the site's bookmark feature to keep track of events you'd like to attend and share the link to your bookmarks page with friends!

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