Lori Goldstein, a member of the graduating class of 1995, began her career in both editing and journalism. Some of her first jobs included editing technology and public policy journals for Cutter Consortium, a business-technology advisory firm, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government. However, the monotony of this style of writing lead to Goldstein’s realization that she wanted a career change. Creative writing became the medium for that change and has allowed her to address larger social issues, like sexism in the tech world, that carry a far wider impact than those covered in trade journals. However, this shift didn’t come with ease. Despite her willingness and desire to write fiction, Goldstein’s journalistic background initially proved to be an obstacle while she was learning the mechanics of writing creatively. Her dedication to mastering the craft has undeniably paid off, and her multiple published titles have opened numerous doors for her.
With the smashing success of her popular Becoming Jinn series, accolades from numerous influential authors (Kelly Loy Gilbert, Emily Chang, Jeff Zetner, to name a few), and forthcoming novel Sources Say, Goldstein has exploded onto the literary scene. On September 25th, Lehigh University welcomed this esteemed alumna back to Zoellner Arts Center to deliver the first Notations Series lecture for the 2019-2020 school year. The Series encourages authors and poets to read and celebrate their work with the community.
Goldstein’s Notations talk centered around her newest book titled Screen Queens. The story follows three brilliantly tech savvy girls as they attempt to shatter the glass ceiling that hangs over Silicon Valley. Lucy Katz, Maddie Li, and Delia Meyer have all been accepted to ValleyStart, an incredibly competitive and highly prestigious high school incubator competition. The winning team is awarded internships at the groundbreaking social media platform Pulse. With an acceptance to Stanford on the line, Palo Alto native Lucy is determined to win and secure the future (and social media influence) she knows she deserves. Maddie, from the bustling East Coast, has one goal: improve her graphic design portfolio. Making friends isn’t on her list. Midwesterner Delia taught herself how to code on a hand-me-down computer and must figure out how to hang in the big leagues. Together, the three girls take on five weeks of intense competition in the hopes of being the first all-female team to win.
Everyone in the audience, including myself, sat in rapt attention while she read the seventh chapter of the novel aloud. Within those fifteen pages, Goldstein captured some of the struggles women encounter as they try to make their own space in male-dominated fields. Their first and foremost challenge is being the only women in the room. Lucy, Maddie, and Delia are stranded in a sea of “seventeen-to-nineteen-year-olds [dressed] in hoodies” and “plain white tees” and shrouded in the stench of “testosterone,” “old french fries and Axe body spray” (54). Feeling as though they’re behind, they scramble to come up with a cohesive idea for their app that will impress the founder of Pulse and gain the respect of their competitors. With her hilarious dialogue, attention to small details, and strong character development, Goldstein achieved a sense of realness that brought us into the world of the tech incubator. I wished I could be sitting at one of those tables and waving a foam finger as a sign of support for Lucy, Maddie, and Delia.
Goldstein drew her inspiration for Screen Queens from StartUp Podcasts, a series about the truths behind starting a business. The second season follows the two women behind Dating Ring. This new business used technology to enhance traditional matchmaking and was co-founded by Emma Tessler and Lauren Kay. Being two women in their 20s, Tessler and Kay were considered outsiders in Silicon Valley. For ten episodes, StartUp Podcasts followed the strife and sexism they had to endure to get their business off the ground.
Inspired by this podcast, Goldstein knew she wanted to create the role models she looked for while she was growing up and find a way to give women a seat at the table in a fictional text. It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in much more than just the tech world. Fiction like Goldstein’s is incredibly important because it not only exposes and names that underrepresentation, but also shows ways in which it can be rectified. A book like Screen Queens gives young girls the hope that yes, they can do this. I looked around the room while Goldstein was explaining the novel’s backstory and saw many other women nodding their heads. It seemed as though we were all in agreement regarding the significant impact of her goal.
Goldstein’s premise for the novel was so strong that she was able to sell it on only a proposal. She then wrote and revised the entire novel in just three months. Yes, three. She laughed when everyone in the room gasped at this revelation (my own jaw dropped open) and advised us to never do the same. Clearly, however, her publisher saw how relevant and important this book would be to young girls chasing their dreams. By not shying away from serious issues like sexism and sexual assault and celebrating the accomplishments of women in technology, Goldstein offers another important voice for the era of “#MeToo.”
When I got to speak to Goldstein during the book signing held after the reading, I thanked her for bringing so much authenticity into her work.After walking away from the table, I noticed she wrote “Be empowered” on the front page of my copy of Screen Queens. There’s power in seeing someone who looks like you succeed, and there’s power in seeing someone take a stand against sexism while supporting other women writers.. Authors like Lori Goldstein remind us that, in the words of Michelle Obama, “there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”