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BeingaWomaninaCreativeIndustry:AConversationbetweenGrammy-WinningMusicianPaulaColeandBestsellingAuthorPatriciaLeavy

Patricia Leavy
Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
8mo Maine, United States Story
Being a Woman in a Creative Industry: A Conversation between Grammy-Winning Musician Paula Cole and Bestselling Author Patricia Leavy

Patricia: So we’ve met at your shows over the years, emailed through Facebook, and recently had a fantastic, and for me, inspiring Skype conversation. As I always thought listening to your music, it turns out that we have a lot in common, both personally and professionally, even though we’re in different creative industries. I suggested we have a “conversation” about what it means to be a woman in the arts over the long haul, living a creative life as mothers, and navigating the industry sides of our businesses. There’s so much we could talk about, but let’s start with early stuff. When did you know you were going to be a musician and that music would be your path in life?

Paula: Always I was drawn to music. I loved it and lived it every day, living in my childhood musical household. But to admit I wanted it professionally was another matter. I knew it would be difficult, I didn’t know just how difficult the music business would be. My Dad was rightfully circumspect and so I applied to several academic universities. Finally a professor at Berklee College of Music (Bob Stoloff) walked over to my father and told him he needed to let me be in music. It helped, too, that I received a generous scholarship from my alma mater. In the safety of Berklee’s musical oasis I explored who I thought I was in relationship to music. Initially I considered myself a jazz singer, then a writer of my own personal songs, penultimately a blend of many genres, ideas and cultures, and ultimately, an artist.

Patricia: For me, it was an indirect road. I’ve loved writing more than anything since I was a little girl. I begged my teachers in elementary school to let me creative write as much as possible and submit creative writing projects instead of traditional assignments, and I wrote stories and poems in my free time. I even bound some of poetry and stories as books using old wallpaper, staples, rubber cement, whatever I could find. As much as I loved writing, I didn’t pursue it in college or as my original career. There’s endless rejection and critique when you’re trying to make it as an author and when I was young, I wasn’t ready. In college I became fascinated with the process of conducting research and ended up getting a PhD in sociology and becoming a professor. I published articles and my first book, which was co-edited with a professor, when I was in graduate school. Sociology gave me things to write about. I became fascinated with how research is conceived of and carried out and starting writing about innovative research methods, including those that use the arts. Over time, I expanded my work as an author. After publishing my first novel, I left academia to live as a fulltime author and public intellectual. Even though it’s not the traditional path, for me this winding road worked well. I was ready for it for when it came and my earlier career has provided a purpose for my writing.

Paula: There is a lot of pressure on us as young adults to choose the one defining life-career and begin our specialization process. This can often lead to a narrowing of our psyche and an ensuing mid-life crisis as we continue to narrow our vision into the one well-paying specialized job. I think there is richness in following your heart and instinct - even if it leads you somewhat astray to a field you did not expect. That field will usually serve you in some unforeseen way. Often I find people of note to have crossed over a few careers, a few adulthoods spanning a few different unforeseen fields, creating a greater body of wisdom and perspective.

Patricia: So let’s fast forward to your first “success” in the music industry. Your 1994 album Harbinger came out to critical acclaim and you found yourself constantly on the road. Then your 1997 album This Fire hit. You had huge singles including “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait.” You were nominated for a slew of Grammy’s, including a nomination for Best Producer, making history as the first woman to sole self-produce and receive that nod. You won Best New Artist. What was that time like for you?

Paula: There has been a lot of focus on that time of my life. It was gratifying for my work to be acknowledged so tremendously. I had worked very hard over many years and the acknowledgement felt like a win for all women. I’ll always have that title of “Grammy Winning Artist” now, and it is something. I also learned that the success I had dared hope for came with a good dose of isolation, loneliness and inauthentic people. I wanted to have a more grounded, realized personal life; a loving equal of a partner and a family. I wanted this now more than the success, which when achieved, felt quite empty.

Patricia: So my path to “success” has followed a different trajectory. Early in my career when I was still teaching I coauthored several books. None of those books were terribly successful. I went through a really tough time personally and professionally and came to a reckoning that I would have to follow my true creative vision, be braver, and never chase “success” but rather follow my voice. I’ve written about this in an open letter to a Facebook friend who thought my life and career seemed perfect. During this reckoning, I decided to write a book about arts-based research no matter what anyone thought. At the time very little was out on the subject and I was discouraged, but I followed my inner voice. Method Meets Art came out in 2008, and became my first bestseller, earning critical acclaim. At the time of my earlier coauthored works, I was a single mother desperately trying to break into publishing and start building a platform for my work so I was disappointed time and again. However, in retrospect, I see that it needed to happen this way. I learned a great deal about the publishing industry for projects that didn’t matter to me as much. I was the second author and not the captain of the ship by any stretch. But during those years I learned about making good pitches, writing strong book proposals, the nuts and bolts of book contracts, the digital revolution on the horizon, and marketing. I found standout publishers in my field, built relationships, and learned to negotiate first-rate book contracts that would serve me well in the long term. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been missteps, but mostly I’ve known what I was doing business wise. I took everything I learned and put it into what became my primary body of work from 2008 on. Method Meets Art was the turning point for me not only because it became successful, but because it’s when I decided to follow my vision and commit myself to the topics I wanted to devote my energies too.

Let’s go back to your 90s fame for a minute and talk about the backstage stuff. I’m quite shy and I’m also an anxious public speaker, and yet because of my career path, I regularly give keynote addresses at conferences, deliver talks at universities, and speak at book events. It’s been something I’ve really had to work on internally, to find a place where I can do that. Authenticity is so important but at the same time, I’ve needed to separate who I am professionally and personally in some ways in order to be able to get on stage and speak to large crowds. I know you’re also introverted. Did being an introvert make the bright spotlight all the more difficult? How did you negotiate that in the 90s and how do you do it now?

Paula: What brought me to my moment of fame had nothing to do with a desire for fame. It came from questing for meaning, for my self-expression in my first language of music, my artistic vision, the grit and energy of my ebullient 20’s. Yes I wanted to make a good living for myself and my band and team. I wanted to sell tickets and continue the shamanic experience of the live show, the connection to fans. I loved that element of success. The photoshoots, video shoots and the loss of anonymity were hell for me. I really struggled. I developed thick psychic armor and walled myself off, even from people I loved. I walked with my head down and didn’t look at people. That was the beginning of the end, I think. I think it’s fairly unnatural, this being in the spotlight. Life is not as good in that place. Now, after removing myself from that ill-fitting trajectory and building my personal life, I am not so recognized. I find people know the songs more than they know me. And the older I get, the more authentic I am up on that stage. I’m able to stumble and right myself, improvise and go with the flow a lot more now.

Patricia: Do people approach you to tell you how a song or album has impacted them? Do you hear a lot of personal stories and what’s that experience like for you?

Paula: I’m fortunate to hear this. Especially after concerts when I meet my fans. It’s extraordinary how music helps all of us. I don’t take it personally, for I know the music is there as the central magic-muse - it heals and helps me too. That’s why I do it. It’s been quite the lesson to see how it helps others as well.

Patricia: Any songs in particular that inspire emotional responses from listeners? I can imagine a song like “Me” would be a big one.

Paula: Of course “Me”. It’s so very simple. A two chord song. A major key. That simplicity and brightness of musical backdrop makes it easy to hear the lyrics in an unencumbered way - and the lyrics carry a deceptively complex mantra in a quest for individuation.

Patricia: Readers constantly share their personal stories with me. Sometimes it’s stories from graduate students or early career professors and researchers who have felt that traditional ways of doing research are too constricting and they’re turning to creative methods or the arts. They use my nonfiction books as inspiration for a path through and they want to tell me about it, thank me, or ask for advice. I’m always honored that the work I’ve done is useful to others. But the responses to my novels are the most emotional. When my first novel Low-Fat Love came I was bombarded by emails from readers. People stood in hallways at conferences or universities or waited in line at signings to whisper their stories to me. I was amazed at how deeply the book resonated with people and how they saw their own stories in the characters. The book was a springboard for them to reflect on their own lives well beyond anything I could have anticipated. Readers would tell me the most personal things about their lives including struggles with settling in their lives, self-esteem, and loneliness. They also told me stories about alcoholism, sexual violence, depression, and even suicide. The most humbling were the emails I received from people who said reading the book stopped them from committing suicide or stopped someone they love. There are no words for that. I still get emails from readers about it. That has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.

We’ve spoken about this privately, but there’s a double-edged sword to success. On the one hand, if you have an album or book that’s successful, it affords you opportunities. I never take for granted that I can publish another book. It’s a privilege that I take seriously each time. But I have a couple books that I’m most identified with. Readers, bloggers, and members of the media always want to ask me about those two books. Although I cherish those books in many ways, they’re not my personal favorites of my own work nor do I think they’re my best. So it’s a strange space. What about for you? You’re closely associated with This Fire and the major singles we mentioned earlier. Do you ever get tired of those songs? Or do you have other work you feel is as strong or stronger that you wish had a bigger audience?

Paula: I accept that This Fire is the connector for many listeners. And I stand by my work there. Of course there is a wealth more material. I love my fans dearly - especially those who appreciate the content of my whole catalog. I think 7 is a very underrated album - some of the songs I’m very proud of. I love “Elegy” from Ithaca and “Red Corsette” from Raven, too. I do feel Amen was ahead of its time in combining social justice, spirituality and a combination of musical genres and guests, from hip hop and R&B (DJ Premiere, Tionne Watkins from TLC) to orchestral arrangements and soulful pop/folk/soul writing. I caught heat for being a white woman rapping, but when I listen to “Rhythm Of Life” I find I’m proud of it and I can’t think of anything like it. It’s such a cool track, and especially musicians when they hear it, are very struck. Of course there are a lot of white men rapping since Amen was made. Hardly any white women. I think the music business is a bastion of patriarchy and it hasn’t a clue about who I am at this point. They haven’t a clue about much of music made by women over 20, period. They who have ears know my talent and then they respond with a kind of muffled shame, because they generally won’t stick their neck out to support me. They honor the same people over and over, the same known, safe names. Vanessa Carlton has a petition circulating now asking for the president of the Grammys (Neil Portnow) to step down after his out of touch and sexist response regarding the lack of women in the latest Grammys. It’s a desert. And it’s a hostile environment to talented, hard-working women on the front lines. It has been from Bessie Smith and Janis Joplin to Terri Lyne Carrington to Courtney Love to Kesha. What a brutal business! And I wonder if Kesha was successful in freeing herself from her record contract? I’ve evolved in many ways since the 29 year old I was at the 40th Grammys, but the business has largely shut me out. It makes me sad and mad that the music business continues to perpetuate the same sexist stereotypes for women. We are so much more. And so we must make our art independently and fight for it to be heard, seen, recognized. I think my relatively successful 29 year old self knew this - that’s why I flipped the bird at the Grammys - for those ignorantly labeling “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” as a Tammy Wynette anthem, for those having a beer while the women washed the dishes, for the arses that were running the TV show of the Grammys, squishing me into an unmusical medley with my female counterparts (even though we had 5 Grammy wins amongst us and our music deserved separate performances) and just generally, for the Patriarchy. I had a hit song that actually made gender roles a discussion, I beatboxed and flipped the bird and OMG, had armpit hair. It was a lot, I didn’t fit the stereotypes the business wanted. There was backlash and my subsequent album sales sank. I didn’t conform to the narrow, objectified pop model for women that the music business wanted, and I had to find my own way after the Grammys, with different labels and management. I felt the emptiness and colossal disappointment in the world not seeing my big loving heart and and my soul and my talent. I am a producer with hits under my belt, and I’ve never been asked to produce anyone else of note. (It wouldn’t even occur to the labels!) Yet they’d ask a novice guitar player with a cute haircut and a penis. To me the music business has revealed itself as a stinking dung heap and it’s only gotten worse. Where are those tons and tons of #MeToo accounts from our women in the music business? Is it still too hostile an environment for them to be told? Where were the women this last Grammys? Just one win for women in the top categories, not much for female performances. No edge really besides Kendrick Lamar, no depth of intelligence in artistic expression. Just more stereotyping for the machine, to my eyes and ears. There’s Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Viola Davis, Nicole Kidman and many, many other articulate evolved women at the Oscars. The Grammys? It pretty much oxygenates on sales and sexism. If you’re a woman, they only honor you if you’re in your 20’s and half naked. It was disappointing that Lorde didn’t perform. I was so grossed out with this most recent Grammys that I realized I don’t ever need to watch it or go again. There should be a new music awards show to replace the Grammys - one where real artistry is honored, not just the blockbuster popcorn albums and songs, but also the art that is fucking great art. I need to focus my energy where it’s felt, where it makes a difference so it won’t be toward the pop machine of the music business or the Grammys. I will be continuing to make meaningful work for my fans, for my daughter to own, and for people to discover. I won’t be singing live forever, so I hope more people wake up to what I do. I pray for music and society to become more diverse and kind and just.

Patricia: I feel you so strongly on the topic of art and true artistry. The best work is rarely the most successful, for the reasons you mentioned, and also because I think people can develop an emotional connection to the first works they read or hear from an artist, and so that’s their touchstone. My favorite of my own books is my novel Blue. Writing it brought me more joy than anything creatively ever has and I even love reading it, which I don’t always feel about my books. I’m proud of the writing but it also captures something that reminds me of magic and love in this world. The theme of the book is that we are possibilities. I’m also really fond of my second novel, American Circumstance, which I think objectively is probably my strongest work. I worked hard to improve my craft after Low-Fat Love. With American Circumstance I decided not to make any commercial concessions and stay true to the story. The book tackles tough subjects including social class, sexual violence, and the mistakes we make in our lives, although it’s written as a fun beach read. The main characters are also women in their forties which is meaningful to me in a culture in which most of pop culture portrays women in their twenties. That book never received the same audience as my first novel, but it’s one of my favorites. Do you have a favorite of your albums of original works? Personally, I’m in love with your album 7.

Paula: Thank you for loving 7! Yes, pop culture wants women in their 20’s. Funny, I’d never want to be in my 20’s again! It’s so much better now! And the world needs women’s wisdom so terribly much! It’s precisely the voice and the medicine and the intelligence the world needs now! We are the mothers with perspective and it is us that will heal this planet.

Patricia: I couldn’t agree with you more! Our lives get so much better and we have more to offer. Tell me about Ballads, your beautiful new album of jazz covers. How did the idea develop and how did you select the songs?

Paula: The concept of a rootsy guitar-based jazz album has been on my bucket list for years. I’ve had two record contracts offered to me to make a jazz album but I pulled out both times because my gut told me to. I needed artistic freedom to make the album rootsy and soulful like a Wes Montgomery driven rhythm section and my voice on top. With songs that I loved. I feel so strongly about the songs and the blending of genres that I was unhappy with these men telling me what to do. I didn’t think they even knew enough and they were giving bad ideas. So I waited until the right time to make it the way I wanted to. And it’s for my Dad, who has been a wonderful teacher to me. He taught me music was to be joyful, self-made, inclusive of different genres.

Patricia: My process of writing nonfiction and fiction are very different. With a nonfiction book, I have an idea which I develop further by immersing myself in the literature in the field. There’s a lot of reading and note-taking. Then I start to develop the outline and organization of the book. That’s a long process of trial and error but by the time I have that nailed, the book becomes like filling in puzzle pieces. It’s a very linear, clean process. Fiction is totally different. I always start with a theme and characters but the plot can change from moment to moment when someone says or does something unexpected. It’s a magical process of discovery. And it’s hard to plan when something will be “done.” With nonfiction I know how long a project will take. But with a novel, I never know if I’ll write one good sentence in a day, or eight pages. Sometimes you fight for it, and sometimes you enter such a flow state as neuroscientists say, you forget to eat or shower. Those days are the best. Was Ballads a different process than your other albums of original works?

Paula: There were so many songs I longed to record for Ballads. I had been amassing beloved chestnuts over the course of my whole life. Some I had been singing since my teens, at my first gigs. The sessions were different because we moved very quickly with so many songs. We recorded 31 songs in 5 days. I’ve never recorded that much material before in one go. Usually 11-14 songs, not over 30.

Patricia: I’m always fascinated with what the creative process is like for other artists and especially how much is private and how much is collaborative. For me, I think of it as crawling into a writing hole. It’s a private place and I protect it fiercely in order to be able to create. To me, the “industry” part needs to be kept out of the initial creative part. But I need to get out of my own head too. In the past I belonged to a writing group. Now I meet weekly with a writing buddy. She really gets my work and vision. We send each other work each week and provide feedback which we hash out in person. It’s incredibly helpful because she’s outside of the industry. Then once a work is complete, it goes to editors, copy editors, reviewers, and so on. Their feedback and expertise is vital and so I’ve learned how to take it in and align it with my own vision. What about your process? How much is private and at what point do you bring in other musicians, industry folks, or trusted friends?

Paula: I think that’s remarkable you have a trusted friend like that. I sometimes share with my partner David my new ideas. And sometimes with my dear old friend and colleague in music, Jay Bellerose. Apart from that I now keep it quite private. My first manager, Carter, used to love hearing my new ideas, but he died some years ago and so it has been a more desolate landscape for the sharing of my seeds.

Patricia: Do you write more songs than make an album? How do you make those decisions? Are you able to put your producer’s hat on and try and get some distance from the songs?

Paula: I still have many unrecorded ideas. I keep lists so I don’t forget those little children. And yes, I usually have additional songs beyond the album. The group coalesces. I honestly love my producer’s frame of mind. Sometimes I think it more adept than my writing frame of mind, which gets muddied.

Patricia: Let’s shift gears for a bit. We both identify as feminist and we both write from a woman’s perspective. When we spoke over Skype we talked about the misogyny we’ve had to deal with in our industries. You spoke about this talking about the Grammy’s past and present. Anything else you would like to share?

Paula: I’ve had terrible things happen in this business. Due to the current #MeToo climate allowing more airing of women’s stories, I’m starting to speak out more. I’d like to write a book one day, a memoir/self-help piece. I do share smaller bits of advice and motherly wisdom with my female students, too. I want them to have an easier time of it than I’ve had and to learn from my mistakes.

Patricia: I’ve been dealing with misogyny my entire career too. I recently wrote an open letter about some of my experiences of sexism in academia, which I know are echoed by many women, and are even worse for many women of color. Publishing is very much engrained in patriarchal thinking too. When you look at what books are nominated for awards, receive awards, reviews, who reviewers are and what they’re preferences are, space in catalogues and at conferences or stores, the list goes on and on. And that’s without talking about contracts and who gets paid what. There can be huge gender disparities and I know many female authors have dealt with this. But what I find even more harmful and insidious is the way authors are treated. As an example, I did two books with one publisher who was, in my mind, a raging misogynist although I think he sees himself as one of the good guys. I’ve spoken to several other female authors he’s worked with and they’ve also had terrible experiences. Men I’ve spoken with have had great experiences. He’s good friends with a famous and beloved female author in my field, who I’m sure he treats well, and a lot of authors assume he’s a good guy because of it. He played all kinds of games with me. He held up review of one of my proposals which he ultimately rejected in a way that I thought was personally cruel. He basically said he ran it by one of his other authors, who he knew was my shero, and that she told him to pass. When I pitched a book series to him, he sent me a manuscript as a test to see if I would accept or reject it. But he sent it over Christmas, forcing me to work over the holidays, and it was not an anonymous manuscript. It was written by a colleague he knew I admired. The whole thing was inappropriate, like a game. He then read one of my novels, published by a different publisher after he passed on it, and sent me a two page letter about how terrible he thought it was. Really nasty stuff. I spoke up and stood up for myself. I told him he crossed a line. After that, the two books I had done with him got no marketing at all. An awards committee was even interested in nominating one for a major award in my field and the publisher included me on an email chain where he told them my book wasn’t right for the award and not to consider it. Can you imagine? And for context, this isn’t “in my head” as some might think. Out of my last fifteen books, eleven did well, with ten becoming bestsellers. The two with him did not. It’s not about sales status, it’s about feeling your work is supported and respected. There was a huge emotional toll, which was the most damaging part. This was someone I respected and felt was a mentor. I was tied up in knots. You start to worry about the rumor mill and that you’ll be branded “difficult” which happens to women all the time. I had two other book contracts with him, both of which thankfully I got out of but there was a lot of unpleasantness around that too. I couldn’t imagine handing him my work. It made me not want to write. But I have to say after I got out of those contracts, I sold one to another publisher for much better financial terms. That book became an instant bestseller upon release. To me, that was like giving him the finger. All of this makes me think about the #MeToo Movement and Time’s Up which you mentioned briefly before. What do you think about these movements? Do you feel the tide is turning?

Paula: It’s high time and it’s only a beginning. The Millennials are so important, they usher in needed change. Our Gen X of women has had to take so many lumps. It gets better, though glacially. Definitely not up to snuff! I mostly need to be my strong self as I feel, even if I am at times a pariah. I am with the people who love me and admire my strength. And I can live with that. I want to die proud of my life, of how authentically I lived it, knowing I touched some hearts and minds, hopefully making the planet a little better.

Patricia: This also makes me think about the challenges mothers in the arts face. We’re both moms to daughters. I’ve worked her whole life, out of necessity and choice. I was a single mom for seven years. I had to create boundaries in my home in order to write. I also instilled a love of coffee shops in her from a young age. We’d go out when she was in her stroller and I’d write and she’d color. She’s seventeen now and we still do that. I write and she works on homework, reading, or her own creative writing. But it hasn’t always been easy to book travel to speak at conferences and do book talks. My folks, especially my mother, helped a lot when she was young, and now my husband and friends help. You made the decision to take a seven year hiatus to raise your daughter. What was that decision like? Was there any support in the industry and what was it like resuming your career?

Paula: When my publishing company heard I was pregnant I received a $200 gift certificate to a baby clothing store and a note, “It was great working with you!” - as if ...PFFFT!!!, that was it! I was done. I was working on my next album! Didn’t they know!? Of course you can still be the same creative soul you’ve been up to that point. I could raise and love my child and still make music. I didn’t need to discuss the contents of my baby’s meals and nappy. I was reading the New York Times every day and writing songs. A publishing company? I can understand a management company figuring in some calendar space from touring (I’m sure they’d do that for a male artist). But a publishing company? Who even were these men? I made them millions. For what? A bad publishing deal and a dose of antiquated, patriarchal sexism when I needed the support most. Over and over the blows came and continue to come. One must keep the engine running. Life is in the trying. There is nothing else.

Patricia: Wow! That’s appalling, although I’m not surprised. You’ve told me that you made some business decisions early on that you regret with respect to management and contracts. What have you learned and what advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Paula: Yes, I signed a bad record deal with Imago, too. Every Imago artist with any success has sued Imago. The president is a notorious weasel. I did not have initial solid career building, or proper counsel and I still do not see anything for the music sold on that label, which unfortunately, contains my hits. When I have attempted to open the discussion they threaten me. That is why I have made my own label 675 Records, and now release my music independently. I re-recorded my hits on my label, and they are gaining plays on Spotify. Also I won’t allow my old masters of the hits to be used in a synchronization license ever again. So I’m sticking it to the man where I can.

Patricia: My advice for aspiring authors is threefold. In terms of publishers, my general advice is who you work with matters. I’ve worked with many publishers but for the last many years I’ve worked exclusively with three. It’s been terrific. In each case I’m working with honorable, talented, people. It makes a huge difference when there’s mutual respect and everyone works to help to bring your vision to fruition. Don’t settle because you’ve dealt with rejections. Working with good people is too important. In terms of nuts and bolts, understand your contracts. Authors can be stuck in non-competes for years, barring them from publishing another book on the same topic. So if you’re book doesn’t do well, you may be in limbo with little to show for it. So your contract matters. For example, I never sign a contract with a right of first refusal clause. I want to be able to bring each book project to the right publisher, I don’t want to be in limbo waiting, and I don’t want to be in a weaker position for contract negotiations. My final bit of advice is to develop your own relationship with your work that isn’t based on external benchmarks of “success” like sales or accolades. Those things can be fleeting and chasing them is fruitless. Follow your creative vision. Doing work we’re proud of, that is of some use to others, that’s what really matters. At the end of it all, our name is linked our body of work. We should be able to stand behind it.

Paula: I agree that sales and accolades are ephemeral and unimportant, ultimately. I am looking at life as a long and beautiful road, the end of which will reveal a vibrant catalog for me and my family to own. I will not let a company steal my time away from me again. I have much to do.

Patricia: You recently told me that as you approach your fiftieth birthday you want to use your platform more for social justice work. How is the current landscape affecting the music you’re making or that you think you’ll make? Does it change your creative process? Are there things you hope to do beyond music-making?

Paula: I’m thinking of my next album lately. I’m feeling the need for more social justice in songwriting, performance, and women’s voices in the world. So it may reflect that.

Patricia: My own writing has definitely been impacted by the state of the world. I’ve always used social justice examples in my nonfiction books and tackled feminist themes in my novels, but at this point, a fire has been lit. I’ve been delving into creative writing more and more. I think artists have been called to action. As a novelist, I look at my job as both chronically the world as it is, and reimagining how it might be. Over the last few years I’ve also been building platforms for other authors committed to social justice. I’m the creator and editor for seven book series, one of which focuses on gender, one on race and ethnicity, and so on. I want to help authors publish work that ought to get out there but that is often marginalized in the industry. It’s been one of the most rewarding ways I’ve used my platform. I’ve also lent my name and time to groups aiming to do good in the world. Most recently I joined the board of directors of Mental Fitness, Inc. a terrific nonprofit that uses arts-based initiatives to build resiliency in youth.

Paula: It’s wonderful to know you some, Patricia. I admire your journey and relate to so much of your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Often I have found it’s been women who have been my greatest pillars and champions.

Patricia: Thank you. You know I feel the same about you and your journey. I too have found women have often been my greatest source of support and comradery. What are your career aspirations now? How do you see your body of work?

Paula: I still have items on my musical bucket list. There is the next album. Another live album. Another standards album. A book. And I could go on.

Paula Cole is a Grammy-Winning musician and the first woman in history to solely produce and receive the Best Producer Grammy nomination for her work, This Fire. She has sold approximately 3 million albums. Rolling Stone called her, “An extraordinary songwriter with a gorgeous voice.” Today, with a loyal fan base who appreciate the depth of her catalog, the loving artist-fan relationship, and the wisdom earned through pain, tears and joy, Cole is proud to go independently on her own label, 675 Records. She is a Professor at her alma mater Berklee College of Music, between tours and albums. Her website is www.paulacole.com and her music can be purchased at http://paulacole.com/store/

Patricia Leavy, PhD is the author, coauthor, or editor of 24 books, the creator and editor for 7 book series with Brill-Sense and Oxford University Press, and is cofounder and co-editor-in-chief of Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal. She has earned critical and commercial success in both nonfiction and fiction, with 10 certified bestsellers. She has received career awards from the New England Sociological Association, the American Creativity Association, the American Educational Research Association, the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and the National Art Education Association. In 2016 Mogul named her an “Influencer.” In 2018, she was honored by the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her website is www.patricialeavy.com


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  • Bethany Heinrich
    Bethany Heinrich Mogul Influencer
    8mo ago New York, NY, United States

    @Patricia Leavy what an amazing interview. That's so cool you connected with her! I agree with her perspective on fame. It does seem very unnatural and that it would be unnerving. What's so strange is that so many strive for it but then once they get it, realize it's probably not the greatest thing. 

    @Patricia Leavy what an amazing interview. That's so cool you connected with her! I agree with her perspective on fame. It does seem very unnatural and that it would be unnerving. What's so strange is that so many strive for it but then once they get it, realize it's probably not the greatest thing. 

    • Patricia Leavy
      Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
      8mo ago Maine, United States

      Thank you so much! It's great because I've felt a connection to her music for so many years and then we had opportunities to meet in person and Skype, which ultimately led to this conversation. So true about fame. With Paula, that was never her aim, but for so many it is, and yet, I imagine it's quite hollow. Thanks again for the kind words!

      Thank you so much! It's great because I've felt a connection to her music for so many years and then we had opportunities to meet in person and Skype, which ultimately led to this conversation. So true about fame. With Paula, that was never her aim, but for so many it is, and yet, I imagine it's quite hollow. Thanks again for the kind words!

  • Bethany Heinrich
    Bethany Heinrich Mogul Influencer
    8mo ago New York, NY, United States

    @Jessica Lipps this is another post I thought you would like!!

    @Jessica Lipps this is another post I thought you would like!!

    • Jessica Lipps
      Jessica Lipps Mogul Influencer
      8mo ago New York, NY, United States

      Thank you for calling this to my attention, @Bethany Heinrich. Patricia, what an in-depth interview! You covered a ton of ground and asked great questions. Thanks to your piece,  I get a great sense of who Paula is as a person and artist. I appreciate your sharing her story - and your story too! - with us!!

      Thank you for calling this to my attention, @Bethany Heinrich. Patricia, what an in-depth interview! You covered a ton of ground and asked great questions. Thanks to your piece,  I get a great sense of who Paula is as a person and artist. I appreciate your sharing her story - and your story too! - with us!!

      • Patricia Leavy
        Patricia Leavy Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor
        8mo ago Maine, United States

        Thanks, Jessica! We had a great time working on it together.

        Thanks, Jessica! We had a great time working on it together.

  • Carmelina Adinolfi 90

    Fortunately, you are talking to Paula, we must be content to see her on TV, and I am in love with Paula I have to see her so without approaching me ... you could have done a lot, hug her, kiss her ...

    Fortunately, you are talking to Paula, we must be content to see her on TV, and I am in love with Paula I have to see her so without approaching me ... you could have done a lot, hug her, kiss her ...


Patricia Leavy
Independent Sociologist, Author, Book Series Creator and Editor

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D. is an independent scholar (formerly Associate Professor of Sociology, Chair of Sociology & Criminology and Founding Director of Gender Studies at Stonehill College). She is widely considered an international leader in the fields of arts-based research and qualitative inquiry. [...]

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