When I was starting out as a copywriter in New York, Nina DiSesa was one of my very first—and very favorite—bosses. She was smart, strong, hilarious, generous, and one of the sharpest writers I’d ever met. Selling-ice-to-Eskimos good (not that she’d ever do something that unethical, not to mention ridiculous.) Some 30 years later, with a book and an astoundingly successful track record behind her, she still is all of those things. But I think we’ve both come to appreciate the “generous” and “funny” parts the most.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I spent the first 16 years of my life drawing. When I realized I wasn’t good enough to get into Pratt, I went to Brooklyn College. I was 16 and Freshman English changed my life.
Who was your favorite teacher?
It was my Freshman English teacher at Brooklyn College, of course. I can’t remember his name. He was young and attractive, but the reason I loved him was because he loved the way I wrote and encouraged me by giving me A’s and A+’s on all my short stories.
What do you love to write about?
Tragedy. Someone was always dying with her family showing great remorse after the fact. Once I wrote a play about a horse. I can’t remember it, but I’m sure the horse died.
What has writing taught you?
Writing was a huge revelation for me. It was the first time I was actually good at something that impressed people other than my parents. Writing showed me I could change people’s behavior. That I could teach people things by making them laugh. Writing gives me a sense of power.
How has writing made you stronger?
My ability to write gave me a great career in advertising. Advertising either makes you mighty or it kills you.
If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?
Oh, God. I could spend HOURS with the 10 year-old me. I would say; be happy that you’re skinny, it won’t last; your eyebrows are not bushy; one day you will grow up to be chairman of a big company — it seems preposterous right now, but trust me; concentrate on the things you love to do and when you grow up, find someone to pay you to do it. If you love something you will be good at it, and what could be better than being paid to do something you would be doing anyway? I would also tell her not to marry her first husband and wait until she found Brian Goodall, even if it meant moving to Chicago to find him.
What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?
My favorite books are the ones that made me want to be a writer: The Catcher in the Rye (obviously), To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22. The first two because they made me cry, the third because it made me laugh out loud and in public places. I can’t keep up with all the content available so I signed up for the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post Daily Brief, etc. I read Vanity Fair a lot. If I can read something on my iPad I’m happy.
Nina DiSesa was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business in 2000 by Fortune Magazine. Her career in advertising spanned over three decades and included stints at some of the biggest agencies in the business, including Y&R NY, JWT/Chicago, and McCann Erickson, where she won $2.5 billion dollars in new business for the shop in just three years, and was the first woman and the first creative director to be made Chairman in the McCann global network.