Fordham Notes: Mary Higgins Clark Shares Insights on Writing and Education

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mary Higgins Clark Shares Insights on Writing and Education

Mary Higgins Clark answered questions from Mary Bly (right), and
audience members at McNally Ampitheatre.
Photo by Tom Stoelker
“I felt like I was the child of a lesser god, because I did not have that diploma in my hands.” 

Best selling author Mary Higgins Clark, FCLC ’79, minced few words during an appearance at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. 

The reigning queen of suspense’s appearance, along with Fordham professor of English Mary Bly, Ph.D., was the closing keynote of the annual conference of Jesuit Advancement Administrators (JAA), held at Fordham from July 13-15.

For “Philanthropy and its Vital Impact on Education,” Higgins Clark spoke at length about what it takes to be a writer (you have to be a good story teller), her deep connections to Fordham, (she first visited the Rose Hill campus when she was 19 to attend a tea dance) and what a Jesuit education gave her (the ability to think).

Speaking to an auditorium filled with development professionals, Higgins Clark called herself living proof of the power of philanthropy. The sudden death of her father when she was 11 thrust her family into a precarious financial situation, but a scholarship enabled her to attend high school at the Villa Maria Academy in the Bronx. 

And although she signed a six-figure writing contract while attending night classes at Fordham College Lincoln Center, she stayed on to finish a degree in philosophy. 

Her 43 books have sold 100 million copies in the United States alone, and so Higgins Clark in turn has given back to Fordham; last year she pledged $2 million to create the Mary Higgins Clark Chair in Creative Writing.

“We must give back. There’s that saying, ‘Much is expected of those to whom much has been given,’” she said.

“So many people simply need help, and we all know the price of education. It only happens because people reach out to donors.”

Throughout the morning, Higgins Clark regaled the audience with stories from her past and her family, using story-telling skills she said here honed while growing up in a large Irish family. 

She compared suspense writing to going to a cocktail party. When you meet someone, you don’t want to hear their entire life story; rather you want the highlights.

“Especially in suspense, you don’t give 20 minutes to the weather and the atmosphere, and someone is having a cup of tea. You’ve got to grab the audience,” she said.

She also said social engagements are also key to engaging potential donors.

“I have said when I die, make it a party. I enjoy parties so much, if it’s good enough, I’ll climb out of my casket to go to it.”

Watch the full interview here.

—Patrick Verel

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