The Root Interview: Susan Fales-Hill on Women Who Write Their Own Rules
The memoirist-philanthropist-TV producer talks about her debut novel, Bill Cosby, Lena Horne and the philanthropic life.
Fales-Hill left Hollywood and returned to New York City. In 1997 she married banker Aaron Hill, moving to the Upper East Side of Manhattan; her old Upper West Side stomping grounds had gentrified and were now out of her price range. Soon the Hills were holding cocktail parties that mirrored the salons of her parents. Fales-Hill made a name for herself on the social-philanthropy scene, becoming a regular in the society pages and in fashion magazines like Vogue.
But behind the glamour was a lot of hard work. Fales-Hills helped organize galas to support the Studio Museum in Harlem, American Ballet Theater and East Side Settlement House; she also chaired the annual event for the Fales Library (named after her grandfather) on the New York University campus. But after the birth of her daughter in 2003, Fales-Hill gradually toned down that aspect of her life. Now, she says, she and her husband lead a "more sequestered life."
It's a life, apparently, that involves a good deal of reading of the classics. Her conversations are dotted with references to Goethe's Faust and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. At her book party, as she talked about how women are held to a different standard of chastity than men, she invoked Homer: "If I was Penelope, and my Odysseus was going to be gone for 20 years, and I was on an island with 100 Mediterranean men. ... " She raised a wry eyebrow to finish her point.
Overall, she says, she strives to live up to the high standard set by the trailblazers who mentored and inspired her as a youth. "My mother used to say that I was born liberated, and then I grew up around women who were so self-actualized." She closed her remarks at her book party by quoting Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher, who said, "Well-behaved women don't make history." It's a sure bet that Aunt Diahann, Aunt Eartha, Aunt Lena, et al., would agree.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.