TIME Books

How David Foster Wallace Explained Why He Wrote Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.
Gary Hannabarger—Corbis David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.

"In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country," Wallace told TIME

In the new film The End of the Tour, out Friday, Jason Segel plays the late author David Foster Wallace, in a look at Wallace’s life shortly after the release of his 1996 tome Infinite Jest. The movie takes place during the promotional tour for the book that firmly established Wallace as what TIME would soon call “Fiction’s New Fab Four.” (The other three were Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody and Donald Antrim.)

“Wallace made a connection with Infinite Jest, his 1,000-page opus about an early 21st century North America splintered by drugs, fanatics and a business ethic so venal that even the months of the year have product names,” TIME’s R.Z. Sheppard commented.

And, Sheppard had concluded in the previous year’s review of Infinite Jest, there was good reason for the attention Wallace was getting. The book was a “marathon send-up on humanism at the end of its tether” and full of “generous intelligence and authentic passion.” Looking back at it now, that send-up is particularly mordant. After all, the book takes place in 2014.

In a sidebar to the review, Wallace told TIME that the choice to set Jest in the then-future was crucial to the book’s reason for being. “In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country,” Wallace is quoted saying. “I wanted to do something about it, about America and what our children might think of us. That’s one reason for setting the book 18 years ahead.”

Now, for better or worse, we know.

Read the original review of Infinite Jest, here in the TIME Vault: Mad Maximalism

TIME Media

What It Was Like to Work With David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace edit
Harry Ransom Center Page 1 of corrected proof of David Foster Wallace’s 1996 essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine.

One of the writer's one-time editors looks back on their work together

This post is in partnership with the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. A version of the article below was originally published on the Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog.

In 1995, Jay Jennings, a former editor of Tennis magazine, commissioned David Foster Wallace to write an article about the U.S. Open, which was published as “Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open” one year later. In 2010, Jennings contributed a file of corrected proofs and correspondence to the Ransom Center relating to the essay and revealing Wallace’s close involvement in the editorial process. Wallace had warned Jennings that he would be a difficult editee, but the papers demonstrate the contrary. Though Wallace’s comments on the proof pages are often assertive, they are equally good-natured, dotted throughout with smiley faces, and oftentimes showing his humor. Jennings recounts his working with Wallace:

In 1995, I contacted a young writer named David Foster Wallace to ask if he would come to the U.S. Open over Labor Day weekend and riff on the scene, not so much the one on the court but that going on all over the grounds of the National Tennis Center in New York. Though he was not widely known, editors were clamoring to have him to riff on some scene or another on the basis of a hilarious, hyperobservant essay he’d published in Harper’s magazine in 1994 about the Illinois State Fair. A few years earlier he’d written about playing junior tennis on the windy plains of the Midwest for Harper’s, so I knew he was a deft player and knowledgeable fan. The lure of the all-access media pass was the clincher and he agreed to do the story for much less than he could have commanded elsewhere.

We put him up at the official hotel, the Hyatt above Grand Central Station in Manhattan, and I met him in the lobby on Sunday morning to ride the shuttle bus out to Queens. Unshaven and in his trademark bandana, he looked the part of a raucous rock star but was unfailingly polite, appreciative, and both excited and a little nervous. At the site, we settled into the main stadium for the marquee match that day, between eventual champion Pete Sampras and a rising Australian star, Mark Philippoussis. I remember being concerned by how few notes he was taking in his tiny notebook and wondering if he was getting enough material. We chatted about tennis and books and other things, I pointed out my boss (a woman in a sunhat nearby), and after the match he decided to wander off on his own. Over the next two days, we’d meet up occasionally on the grounds, and as we were leaving together one day, he asked me if I wanted to join him and his friend Jon (Franzen, then a struggling novelist in New York) for a showing of Larry Clark’s film KIDS that night. My then-wife had other plans for us, so I had to demur, to my eternal regret, relegating myself to an even smaller DFW footnote in literary history. The story he produced from that weekend and his tiny notebook proved to be one of the longest (and best) Tennis magazine has ever run, and I had difficult battles with the lady in the sunhat, as Dave and I came to call her, to see that it was published as Dave intended it, footnotes, eccentric abbreviations and all. In the essay, after having spent only a few days there, he had crystalized all the annoyances, grievances, glories and grandeur that those of us who had been attending the event for years had observed but with more humor, sharpness and empathy: the “felonious” price of the Häagen-Dazs bars, the “big ginger beard” that made one of the ball boys look like a “ball grad student,” and the “mad crane” style of a 6’6″ player.

We held the story for a year to run in our 1996 U.S. Open issue, and in the interim, Infinite Jest was published and Dave became the reluctant darling of the literary world. After the issue appeared, he generously wrote to thank me for the short profile I’d written of him for the magazine’s “Editor’s Page” and, again later that year, to explain why the Tennis story would not appear in his collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, even though he thought it better than another tennis piece, “The String Theory,” originally from Esquire: the latter had received more attention and to include both would be too much tennis for the book. He didn’t owe me that explanation but, like his intellect, his empathy was wide-ranging and deep, and he knew that having the Tennis story in the collection would probably help my editing career. Instead, I got a consolation prize I enjoyed even more: he put me in the acknowledgements as “Jay (I’m Suffering Right Along With You) Jennings,” commemorating our joint battles with my superior.

We continued to correspond sporadically over the years, the last time just months before he took his own life, when I wrote to him about an exhibition match I’d seen between the retired Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. He replied by postcard that he thought McEnroe was ‘so lovely to watch play’ but ‘a ghastly TV commentator,’ a contrarian view I shared. When I heard he’d committed suicide, I remembered an earlier postcard he’d sent me, not so much for what he wrote, which was typically funny and kind, but for the picture. It showed a detail from the exterior of Salisbury Cathedral in England, a close-up of a stone bust in a silent, eternal, open-mouthed scream; on the verso, the work, a portrait of pain, was identified simply as “Head of Man.”

Jay Jennings is the author of Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City, and the editor of Tennis and the Meaning of Life: A Literary Anthology of the Game and Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.

See more about the Ransom Center’s collection here at the Harry Ransom Center blog

TIME People

Uber Wants Your Parents to Be Drivers If They Can Use a Smartphone

senior woman hands on steering wheel
Getty Images

The new economy is welcoming older Americans with open arms

“Companies don’t hire 50-year-olds. They just don’t.”

So says 50-year-old Sherry Singer. After decades of being a professional matchmaker, Singer wanted to change gears and start a non-profit, but still needed to pay the rent in L.A. Feeling she had few places to turn in the traditional job market, she looked to a more disruptive space: the booming on-demand economy led by Uber. Singer, who has now worked several of these freelancing jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago, found she could land a gig within a week.

Agism might be rampant in Silicon Valley, but some of the Bay Area’s leading companies are now actively trying to engage the senior crowd, recognizing the huge potential of experienced workers and responsible adults.

On Thursday, Uber announced a partnership with Life Reimagined, an organization under the AARP umbrella that exists to help older people figure out “what’s next?” after life transitions. The same day, Airbnb released data aimed at “celebrating” older hosts and guests, amid their executives attending summits on aging around the country.

“To overlook them participating in new activities would be really short-sighted,” says Airbnb’s Anita Roth, who attended a recent conference on aging hosted by the White House.

When these companies were startups that didn’t know how long they might survive, being short-sighted may have made sense. New tech companies have been started by young people who hire their young friends to help create solutions to problems they’re encountering in their own young lives. Their first customers are often their young, early-adopting friends who live in the Bay Area. But with valuations north of $25 billion, these “startups” are focusing on expansions into a more untapped demographic, which also happens to be huge and growing.

By 2032, Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under the age of 15. While bands of young companies are starting to pay more respect to the buying power of this demographic, Uber’s new effort is about recognizing their potential as workers. Life Reimagined bills itself as a helping hand for any adult in need of some direction—whether that person is a 42-year-old divorcee, 55-year-old empty nester or 66-year-old retiree bored nearly to death. Their mission isn’t just about helping people find new jobs or careers, but that’s often involved for participants who range from their late 30s to early 70s.

“The reality is there are far more adults looking for work than venues that are seeking to hire them,” says Emilio Pardo, Life Reimagined’s president. Their effort with Uber is explicitly targeting the “40-plus” crowd. The rideshare company said they don’t have a particular goal for how many drivers they hope to recruit.

Uber already has hundreds of thousands drivers coming onto their platform worldwide every month and expects perhaps another hundred thousand join their ranks in the U.S. over the next few years. Still, says Uber executive David Richter, they need to actively recruit. “We have the high-class problem of ever-increasing demand,” he says.

Uber previously engaged in targeted demographic outreach by trying to sell veterans on becoming drivers. The theory was that many veterans are task-oriented, disciplined and also looking for a healthy outlet “to bring those traits to bear,” says Richter. Those drivers turned out to get higher-than-average ratings; Uber hopes to repeat those results by capitalizing on older drivers who might provide a “more cautious, reliable ride.” According to a white paper released in January, Uber drivers are more likely to be young, female and highly educated than taxi drivers or chauffeurs. Still, about half of them are already over the age of 39.

What about the stereotype that grandma is a haphazard driver who goes everywhere with her blinker on and can operate a smartphone about as well as nuclear submarine? Ken Smith and Martha Deevy, experts from Stanford’s Center on Longevity, generally have a positive attitude about older people driving for Uber, saying that the flexibility those jobs provide will likely be attractive to retirees who need income but want flexible schedules. They also point out that if age 40 is the starting point, that means “there are 30 unambiguously safe years there.” If you look at fatal crash statistics, they point out, you could argue that getting into a car with a 65-year-old is safer than doing so with a driver who is less than 30.

Smartphones are required to do the job of being an Uber driver—as well as most new jobs in the on-demand economy—because it involves accepting and completing requests for rides through the Uber app. Just over half of 50- to 64-year-olds own smartphones, according to Pew, but those numbers are going up. In 2012, only 34% of them did. And, Richter says, new drivers can always lease a smartphone from Uber if needed.

The Center on Longevity is a leading organization dedicated to trying to figure out how Americans can all lead better, longer lives, a crucial mission given that our life expectancies have jumped 20 years since 1925. Airbnb worked with the group to develop a survey to learn more about their older users. Turns out, about one million of Airbnb’s guests and hosts are over 60. Considering 25 million people used Airbnb to find accommodations in the past year, that leaves a lot of room for growth, especially among a demographic that is more likely to own their own home. Like Uber’s veteran drivers, Airbnb’s older hosts also tend to get better reviews than the general population, Airbnb says. The majority of those hosts are either retirees or empty-nesters who start renting out rooms for the extra money; according to Airbnb’s survey, 49% of them are on a fixed income. But, Roth says, many people who come to the platform for the money end up staying for the social engagement and “renewed sense of purpose.” Isolation among older Americans, Life Reimagined’s Pardo says, “is fatal.”

Of course, the sharing and on-demand economies are not without their uncertainties and pitfalls. Lawsuits are alleging that companies like Uber are exploiting their workers, and cities like San Francisco are hotly debating how much home-sharing to allow. Though 50-year-old Singer continues to work for an on-demand ride company, she’s also a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Postmates, an on-demand delivery service for which she used to be a courier. The business models of these companies may have to change, but the fact that companies can benefit from giving older Americans more opportunities and attention will remain. “People are in a moment in America where either they can’t retire, don’t want to retire or they’re retired but they’re not done yet,” says Pardo. “It’s all about using the latest technology to actually open up a new opportunity, to give you options.”

TIME Books

Emily Brontë Never Knew How Successful She’d Become

Painting of Emily Jane Bronte who was a femaile poet and romance writer.
Photo 12 / UIG / Getty Image Painting of Emily Jane Bronte

July 30, 1818: Emily Brontë is born

Correction appended, July 31, 2015

When she died of consumption at age 30, Emily Brontë believed her only novel had been a failure. Born on this day, July 30, in 1818, the middle of the three literary Brontë sisters only survived long enough to read the early, negative reviews of Wuthering Heights — of which there were many.

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery,” opined the Philadelphia-based Graham’s Magazine in 1848, the year after the novel’s publication. “It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.”

“Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights,” suggested Paterson’s Magazine.

Of course, the tide of public opinion soon turned, and Wuthering Heights became a classic — one that has only grown more popular, it seems, as the years have passed. Here are a few of the gothic love story’s many adaptations that enjoyed the critical success Emily Brontë never knew:

The Film. Laurence Olivier was a reluctant Heathcliff in Samuel Goldwyn’s 1939 movie — although only because he preferred the purer art of theater. He complained during filming that “he dislikes working for the movies and only does it for money,” according to TIME. Begrudgingly, he pulled off a brilliant performance all the same: “a speaking tribute to the efficacy of the profit motive,” per TIME. Detailing Goldwyn’s efforts to achieve authenticity, TIME added that he:

…landscaped 540 California acres into a Yorkshire moor. He imported eight British actors, a dialect expert to see that their accents matched, 1,000 panes of hand-blown glass for interior shots and 1,000 heather plants for outdoors. He did not attempt to send for Emily Brontë. In spite of this oversight, there is not much she could have done to improve this screen translation of her masterpiece.

The Opera. While Carlisle Floyd had some criticism of his own for the novel — “I realized it’s very badly written; I could use almost no Brontë dialogue,” TIME quotes the composer as saying in 1958 — his operatic adaptation of Wuthering Heights in Santa Fe won over some influential critics, including a Metropolitan Opera Board Member, who said, “This puts the Met to shame.” (Not everyone shared his high opinion. Per TIME: “‘I liked the movie better,’ said one mink-draped woman.”)

The MTV Musical. Reviewers didn’t love this 2003 version, which turned the brooding Heathcliff into a literal rock star. Still, the critics went easier on MTV than they had on Emily Brontë two centuries earlier. “Teenage girls may get a kick out of it, but for a broader audience it could and should have been better,” the New York Times concluded diplomatically.

The Action Figures. One of the best Brontë remakes was never actually made. A YouTube video of a fake commercial for Transformers-like action figures of Emily and her sisters — produced in 1998 as one in a series of educational shorts, although it never actually aired — shows the Brontë figures confronting the patriarchy with fake mustaches and boomerang books. When outnumbered, the trio combine to form the Brontesaurus, an all-powerful dinosaur equipped with “barrier-breaking feminist vision.”

The Novel, Re-issued, with a Vampire Boost. All it took was a nod from Bella to resurrect Emily Brontë’s masterpiece from the dead. After the heroine of the Twilight saga compared her feelings for Edward to Catherine’s love for Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights attracted a new generation of readers. Sales of the novel quadrupled, according to the Telegraph, after HarperCollins reissued it in 2009 with the tagline “Bella and Edward’s favorite book.”

Read more about Brontë from the TIME archives: More News of the Dark Foundling

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the year Wuthering Heights was published. It was 1847.

TIME People

Penn. Congressman Chaka Fattah Indicted in Racketeering Case

Chaka Fattah
Matt Rourke—AP In this May 7, 2015 photo, Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., speaks at the School of the Future in Philadelphia.

Fattah has been the subject of a long-running federal investigation

(PHILADELPHIA) — Pennsylvania Congressman Chaka Fattah has been indicted on charges he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal, charitable and campaign funds.

The 11-term Philadelphia Democrat was charged Wednesday with racketeering conspiracy, bribery, conspiracy to commit wire, honest services and mail fraud, and other charges.

Fattah has been the subject of a long-running federal investigation. Four others also have been charged, including people who worked for his campaign and congressional staffs.

Fattah’s office had no immediate comment on the charges. It said it would issue a statement shortly.

TIME Florida

Families of Missing Florida Teens Plead for Help

Perry Cohen (L) and Austin Stephanos, both 14 years old.
U.S. Coast Guard—AP Perry Cohen (L) and Austin Stephanos, both 14 years old.

Overturned boat was found Sunday, two days after 14-year-olds took it out

The families of two teenage boys who went missing while fishing off the coast of Florida pleaded for help Monday, asking people to scour the shores for debris or any clues that might lead to their sons.

The 19-foot white single-engine boat that Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, took out off the coast of Jupiter late last week was found Sunday, roughly 67 miles off the shore of Daytona Beach. There was no sign of the teens in the boat, according to the Coast Guard.

“We want everybody, once again, from Palm Beach all the way up the coast of…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Sports

Remembering How the French Got Ahead of Lance Armstrong

US Lance Armstrong (US Postal/USA) takes
Joel Saget—AFP/Getty Images Lance Armstrong takes the start of the 20th and last stage of the of the 90th Tour de France cycling race between Ville d'Avray and Paris Champs Elysees, July 27, 2003.

July 27, 2003: Lance Armstrong wins the fifth of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles, tying the previous record

When Lance Armstrong won his fifth consecutive Tour de France title, no one was more disappointed than the French, who resented him for a number of reasons — not the least of which was his tendency to win their most famous road race, year after year. On this day, July 27, in 2003, Armstrong tied Miguel Indurain’s record for winning the most consecutive Tour titles. He then went on to win two more years in a row.

Armstrong was stripped of all seven titles in 2012, following revelations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. But the French media were, from the beginning, much more aggressive than their American counterparts in pursuing the doping rumors that chased Armstrong throughout his cycling career.

Already in 2002, as he pedaled through the hills of Provence en route to his fourth Tour victory, he was heckled by French crowds jeering “Dopé!”

TIME defended the American champion. “Armstrong, who is randomly tested for drugs throughout the year and has always been clean, has nevertheless faced suspicion that given his domination of a drug-tainted sport, he must be illegally boosting his performance,” TIME notes in its report on that race, adding that Armstrong’s feelings were hurt by the French accusation.

“A boo is a lot louder than a cheer,” TIME quotes him as saying. “If you have 10 people cheering and one person booing, all you hear is the booing.”

Armstrong heard even more booing in 2005, when the French newspaper L’Équipe published its finding that Armstrong’s blood had contained the banned drug EPO in 1999, when he won his first Tour. The four-page report, headlined “The Armstrong Lie,” was “very meticulous,” according to the Tour’s director, as quoted in the New York Times. Still, naysayers outside France remained unconvinced — including Indurain, whose record Armstrong had by then obliterated, and who charitably observed, “They have been out to get him in France for a number of years.”

It took a 2012 report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency — followed by Armstrong’s televised confession to Oprah Winfrey — for the booing to take on an American accent. Armstrong finally switched gears, abandoning his denials of the doping allegations — from French hecklers as well as his own former teammate — and beginning the long, uphill battle toward redemption.

And although the boos were back in force this year when he reappeared on the route, a day before the Tour de France began, to take part in a charity ride benefiting leukemia research, he can take comfort in knowing that at least one Frenchman is — or at least was — a fan: former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

During a break in the 2010 Tour, the pair greeted each other warmly; Sarkozy described Armstrong as a “model personality.” Armstrong returned his affection, saying, “We’re just two old guys who like to ride bikes.”

Read more from 2003 in TIME’s archives: Lance de France

TIME People

What Hiram Bingham Got Wrong About Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham 1911
Apic—Getty Images Yale graduate and American explorer Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) who discovered the Machu Picchu in Peru, July 24, 1911.

The explorer had first reached the ancient Incan city on July 24, 1911

Until the archeologist Hiram Bingham came across it on this day, July 24, in 1911, most of the world thought the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu was lost, as was their capital Vilcabamba. As TIME reported in 1948, when Bingham returned to Peru to celebrate the opening of a road to the site, which would bear his name, he began by studying old charts and texts, until he was sure that there was an Incan capital city somewhere in the Andes that had never been found by the Spanish invaders. He got a key tip from a local muleteer and, upon climbing Machu Picchu peak, found the lost city hidden under vines.

Of course, the very fact that the muleteer had the tip to offer means that Machu Picchu was never completely lost in the first place. It was just ignored by all but the locals who lived their lives around the site. Shortly after Bingham’s death, when a plaque was dedicated to him at the site, the magazine had cause to revisit the tale:

Some experts believe that parts of the city, which Bingham named Machu Picchu (Old Peak), are 60 centuries old, which would make it 1,000 years older than ancient Babylon. More recently, if its ruins are interpreted correctly, it was at once an impregnable fortress and a majestic royal capital of an exiled civilization.

Built on a saddle between two peaks, Machu Picchu is surrounded by a granite wall, can be entered only by one main gate. Inside is a maze of a thousand ruined houses, temples, palaces, and staircases, all hewn from white granite and dominated by a great granite sundial. In Quechua, language of the sun-worshipping Incas and their present-day descendants, the dial was known as Intihuatana—hitching post of the sun.

By Bingham’s own reckoning, the city was actual a pre-Incan fortress that eventually became a Quechua city, where the first Incan king was born. When the Spanish arrived, Bingham said, the Incas who could fled to Machu Picchu, but the empire only lasted a few more decades before the last of their kings was killed in the 16th century.

Though Machu Picchu never lost its appeal to tourists, it did turn out that Bingham’s account of what had happened there wasn’t exactly true. Modern experts argue that Machu Picchu was a mere country retreat for aristocracy—and not a major center of Incan life at all.

Read more from 1948, here in the TIME Vault: Explorer’s Return

TIME People

The Scandal That Cost a Miss America Her Crown

Vanessa Williams Relinquishes Her Miss America Title
Yvonne Hemsey—Getty Images Vanessa Williams resigns her Miss America title, July 23, 1984, in New York City.

July 23, 1984: Vanessa Williams resigns as Miss America after Penthouse magazine announces it will publish photos of her posing nude

It might have been the lowest point in her life, as she told People in 1984, but the scandal that led Vanessa Williams to resign her post as Miss America also set her up for one of the greatest comebacks in entertainment history.

On this day, July 23, in 1984, then-21-year-old Williams handed over her crown — making her both the first black Miss America and the first to give up the title — after Penthouse announced that it would publish raunchy photos she had posed for two years earlier while working as a photographer’s assistant. The photographer had assured her at the time, she told People, that the photos were merely silhouettes, in which she’d be unidentifiable and that they would never leave the studio.

But they did leave the studio, partly because she was identifiable: photos of Miss America in compromising positions, some of them involving another nude woman, were worth their weight in gold. TIME reported that the photographer was paid more than Penthouse had ever paid for a photo spread before.

The pageant’s organizers were aghast at the images, which appeared in Penthouse’s September 1984 issue with the headline, “Miss America: Oh, God, She’s Nude!” The magazine’s publisher had little compunction about printing them over Williams’ objections. Playboy, meanwhile, took the moral high ground: it had been offered the photos first, but turned them down partly in deference to Williams — and partly because, per TIME, “it does not use what Spokesman Dave Salyers calls lesbian material.”

Hugh Hefner emphasized the former rationale in explaining Playboy’s restraint, calling the publication of Williams’ nude photos “immoral” and “improper.”

“The single victim in all of this was the young woman herself, whose right to make this decision was taken away from her,” TIME quoted Hefner as saying. “If she wanted to make this kind of statement, that would be her business, but the statement wasn’t made by her.”

The statement that Williams ultimately made was that she was more than a racy photo spread — and more than Miss America. The title had never been a dream of hers, as TIME attested just after she won the competition. A musical theater major at Syracuse University, she’d entered the pageant circuit for practical reasons. “She wanted the scholarship money ($25,000),” TIME explained, “and she wanted the exposure. She wants to be a star.”

While the exposure she got was not the type she wanted, she became a star on her own terms, as a Grammy-nominated singer and an actress with prominent roles in Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, among others. Although she initially filed a lawsuit against Penthouse and the photographer who’d burned her, she quickly dropped it and forged ahead with her career ambitions, hoping, she said, to make a name for herself without dragging the scandal along in her wake. She presumed karma would pick up where legal action left off.

“I just wanted to get on with my life,” she told People in 1989. “So many people have gotten burned by those people that I think they’ll eventually get it in the end and die a slow, painful death.”

Read more from 1984, here in the TIME archives: There She Goes, Miss America

TIME Workplace & Careers

10 CEOs Who Prove Your Liberal Arts Degree Isn’t Worthless

HBO, Starbucks, and Disney's CEOs were once disgruntled liberal arts majors, too

Hearing a son or daughter say they’re majoring in the liberal arts has never made more parents’ hearts sink into their stomachs. STEM degrees appear atop nearly every ‘best majors’ list, President Barack Obama has made jabs at the usefulness of a humanities degree, and college dropouts have colonized the Fortune 500. So when unemployed English majors joke that no degree would be better than one in liberal arts—they might actually not be kidding.

But there is life after liberal arts — just ask these 10 CEOs. From a self-proclaimed “completely unemployable” history major, to a B-average communications student at a No. 91-ranked state school, to a hippie philosophy dropout who wanted to fix capitalism, here’s how these formerly disgruntled liberal arts majors beat everyone else to the helms of some top companies.

  • Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

    Howard Schultz Starbucks CEO
    Stephen Brashear—Getty Images Howard Schultz speaks during an annual shareholders meeting March 18, 2015, in Seattle, Wash.

    Degree: B.S. in Communications, Northern Michigan University, 1975

    On worrying about his post-college job prospects: A first-generation college student, Schultz grew up in a working-class family in the Projects of Canarsie in Brooklyn, and later attended NMU on a football scholarship. “During senior year, I also picked up a few business classes, because I was starting to worry about what I would do after graduation. I maintained a B average, applying myself only when I had to take a test or make a presentation,” Schultz wrote in his 1999 business memoir, Pour Your Heart Into It. To my parents, I had attained the big prize: a diploma. But I had no direction. No one ever helped me see the value in the knowledge I was gaining.”

    On getting his start in business: After graduating from college in 1975, like a lot of kids, I didn’t know what to do next… I took some time to think, but still no inspiration came,” Schultz wrote in his memoir. “After a year, I went back to New York and got a job with Xerox, in the sales training program. I learned more there than in college about the worlds of work and business.” After three years, Schultz joined a Swedish drip coffee maker manufacturer before moving to Starbucks as director of marketing in 1982. He has served as CEO since 2008.

    On success: It took years before I found my passion in life,” the coffee exec wrote. “But getting out of Brooklyn and earning a college degree gave me the courage to keep on dreaming.” Schultz added: “I can’t give you any secret recipe for success. But my own experience suggests that it is possible to start from nothing and achieve even beyond your dreams.”

  • Andrea Jung, Former Avon CEO

    Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon Products Inc., accepts the Leadership in the Corporate Sector award during the Clinton Global Citizen Award ceremony marking the culmination of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York
    Lucas Jackson— Reuters Andrea Jung accepts the Leadership in the Corporate Sector award at the Clinton Global Citizen in New York on Sept. 23, 2010.

    Degree: B.A. in English Literature, Princeton University, 1979

    On whether she had ever imagined being a Fortune 500 CEO: A trailblazer for female CEOs, Jung finds it hard to believe how a Princeton bookworm came to lead the world’s largest direct cosmetics seller, where she was chief from 1999 to 2012. “What I find myself doing [now] was pretty unimaginable for me in 1979, after I finished my much-loved thesis on Katherine Mansfeld and my junior papers on Virginia Woolf,” Jung told students in a 2012 speech at her alma mater.To be standing here, and saying, ‘I now run a $10 billion global company’—I would’ve said, ‘Couldn’t be possible, that is not an imagined career path, not an imagined journey.’ Things have certainly taken a wonderful, but different, path.”

    On being an English major: “Because I was an English major, I loved journalism, I thought perhaps I’d go back to journalism school or law school,” Jung said during her speech. But her friends told her about a training program at Bloomingdale’s to gain experience in marketing and merchandising before hitting the books once more. “I fell in love with the business and the consumer,” Jung recalled. So she ditched her grad school plans, and dove into the women’s apparel, accessories and cosmetics industry. “The rest is history.”

     

  • Michael Eisner, Former Walt Disney Company CEO

    Disney CEO Michael Eisner
    Hector Mata—AFP/Getty Images Disney CEO Michael Eisner (R) and his hand-picked successor Robert Iger pose for a photograph in Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on July 17, 2005.

    Degree: B.A. in English Literature and Theater, Denison University, 1964

    On the importance of liberal arts: “Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships. It gives you an appreciation of what makes people tick,” argued Eisner, who served as Disney CEO from 1984 to 2005, in a 2001 interview with USA Today.

    On failed dreams and unemployment after college: “After graduating from Denison, I set off on the ocean liner Mauritania for Paris, figuring that I’d find some café to write in, live the bohemian life for several years, and turn out plays that would eventually find their way to Broadway,” Eisner recalled in his 1999 autobiography, Work in Progress. Realizing quickly that he didn’t have the talent to become the “next great American playwright,” Eisner moved to New York to find a steady job. “The only problem,” he recalled, “was that I couldn’t get a job… My inability to land a job left me feeling lonely, dislocated and slightly frantic.”

    On starting off at a $65/week job: A few months later, in late 1964, Eisner received his first job offer, an NBC clerk where he logged the times each commercial appeared on air, and whether they were black-and-white—for just $65 per week. “It was far better than being unemployed,” he wrote in his autobiography. Later, he quickly scaled the corporate ladder at ABC and Paramount Pictures, before serving as Disney’s chief from 1984 to 2005. As the New York Times said of Eisner’s skill set in a 1998 article: “Eisner is unusual among entertainment moguls because he has had both creative and corporate experience. He knows how you put a show together and avoid going broke doing it.”

     

     

  • Richard Plepler, HBO CEO

    Richard Plepler HBO CEO
    Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images Richard Plepler speaks during the 2011 Summer TCA Tour on July 28, 2011, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

    Degree: B.A. in Government, Franklin & Marshall College, 1981

    On drawing inspiration from his liberal arts studies: HBO’s chief since 2013, Plepler recalled in a commencement speech this year at his alma mater that, when trying to land his first job, he turned to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings. “I believed, with Emerson, that if a man planted himself on his convictions and hopes that, ‘the huge world will come ’round to him.’ I always felt that, and all these years later, still do,” he said. “I decided to do everything in my power to secure a job, however lowly, in the nation’s capital. I got in my little Honda, and I drove to Washington, used all my energy and power of persuasion to try to talk my way onto the staff of a young U.S. Senator from my home state of Connecticut, Christopher Dodd.”

    On the chance encounter that led to his HBO career: After four years in D.C., Plepler moved to New York City in 1987 and started a one-man consultancy. One night, at a Chinese restaurant, he looked up and saw Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. That year had marked the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, a topic familiar to Plepler, who then decided—on the spot—to pitch to him a documentary film about the conflict. “He barely looked up from his dumpling,” Plepler admitted. “He finally asked me to sit down, he listened, nodded and after a variety of happy accidents in the coming weeks and months, I produced a film… The film captured the imagination of the then Chairman of HBO, who invited me to join the company.”

    On what young grads can learn from reading Game of Thrones: As Plepler said during his speech: “While the road ahead, to quote from Game of Thrones, is ‘dark and full of terrors,’ it is hardly insurmountable.”

  • Carly Fiorina, Former Hewlett-Packard CEO

    Carly Fiorina HP CEO
    John G. Mabanglo—AFP/Getty Images Carly Fiorina responds to media questions after an HP shareholders meeting in Cupertino, Calif., on March 19, 2002.

    Degree: B.A. in Medieval History and Philosophy, Stanford University, 1976

    On becoming CEO of a leading computer company: Armed with a Stanford history degree yet still “completely unemployable,” Fiorina worked short stints as a receptionist, English teacher and secretary. At 25, she landed a sales rep job at AT&T, and quickly rose up in the IT and tech industry, eventually becoming HP’s chief from 1999 to 2005. When asked in a 2001 USA Today interview whether her degree was of any use, Fiorina said how studying the transformation from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance helped her approach the ongoing technological revolution: “We have, in fact, seen nothing yet.”

    On being proud of her liberal arts background: “While I joke that my medieval history and philosophy degree prepared me not for the job market, I must tell you it did prepare me for life,” the 2016 Republican presidential candidate said in March, speaking of education policy. “I learned how to condense a whole lot of information down to the essence. That thought process has served me my whole life… I’m one of these people who believes we should be teaching people music, philosophy, history, art.”

    (Fiorina also earned an MBA from the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1980; and an MS from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1989.)

     

  • John Mackey, Whole Foods Co-CEO

    John Mackey Whole Foods CEO
    Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images John Mackey speaks at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C., on April 6, 2011.

    Degree (dropped out): B.A. in Philosophy and Religion, The University of Texas at Austin, 1977

    On the benefits of being a literary hippie and college dropout: “I accumulated about 120 hours of electives, primarily in philosophy, religion, history, world literature, and other humanities. I only took classes I was interested in, and if a class bored me, I quickly dropped it,” Mackey wrote in his 2013 book, Conscious Capitalism. Mackey, a shaggy-haired yogi, meditator and vegetarian living in a commune, ended up not taking a single business class: “I actually think that has worked to my advantage in business over the years. As an entrepreneur, I had nothing to unlearn and new possibilities for innovation.”

    On philosophy and founding Whole Foods: During his college years, Mackey drifted into a progressive political philosophy that taught him “both business and capitalism were fundamentally based on greed, selfishness, and exploitation,” the self-described “classical liberal” wrote in his book. That, he said, was the motivation for his girlfriend and him to open a natural foods store, Safer Way, in 1978. In two years, they renamed it Whole Foods Market.

  • Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO

    Susan Wojcicki YouTube CEO
    Kimberly White—Getty Images for Vanity Fair Susan Wojcicki speaks at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Oct. 9, 2014 in San Francisco, Calif.

    Degree: B.A. in History and Literature, Harvard University, 1990

    On majoring in the humanities: Wojcicki, an early Google employee who became YouTube’s CEO in 2014, credits her parents — both of whom were teachers — with encouraging her broad interests: “Their goal wasn’t to become famous or make money… They found something interesting, and they cared about it. I mean, it could be ants, or it could be math, or it could be earthquakes or classical Latin literature,” the California native told Fast Company in 2014. “No one in my family had ever worked in business beforehand. So there was the expectation that I would just go into academics.”

    On becoming one of the most powerful women in tech: Wojcicki had originally planned on getting a PhD after graduation, but her career path changed when she discovered the power of technology her senior year at Harvard, when she took the school’s popular intro computer science class. “CS50 changed my life,” she recalled in a video encouraging students to take the class. “When I graduated from Harvard in 1990, I went to Silicon Valley, and I got a job, and I’ve been working in tech ever since.”

    (Wojcicki also earned an MS in Economics from University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1993; and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 1998.)

  • Steve Ells, Chipotle Co-CEO

    Steve ells chipotle CEO
    Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg via Getty Images Steve Ells on a Bloomberg Television interview in New York on June 27, 2014.

    Degree: B.A. in Art History, University of Colorado Boulder, 1988

    On his liberal arts education: “In college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I studied art history and had a great time, but I didn’t have any sort of career aspirations,” recalled Ells in a 2004 interview with Westword. “I never took business classes in school. I never really thought about the economics of a restaurant — only the food and the experience,” Ells added in a 2011 video interview about Chipotle’s beginnings.

    On founding the now-$20 billion burrito chain: After college, Ells, who had always been passionate about cooking, attended the Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 1990. When he launched Chipotle three years later, he had to play catch-up with his business smarts. “Raising money for Chipotle was really my MBA,” Ells said in a 2009 Wall Street Journal interview.People asked a lot of questions about the business that forced me to take a critical look at how it ran.”

  • Alexa Hirschfeld, Paperless Post Co-Founder

    Alexa Hirschfeld Paperless Post Ceo
    Ramin Talaie—Bloomberg/Getty Images Alexa Hirschfeld speaks at the Empowered Entrepreneur Conference in New York on Oct. 18, 2011.

    Degree: B.A. in Classics, Harvard University, 2006

    On quitting her first job to co-found Paperless Post with her brother: The e-vite service was conceived in 2007 by her younger brother, James, while the Harvard undergrad was planning his 21st birthday party. He then called his sister, who had planned to leave her first job as an editorial assistant at CBS, where she was often stuck opening mail. “I wanted to be in something that was not figured out yet,” Alexa said in a 2011 interview with Cosmopolitan. “I imagined that if I were, there would be more room for creativity.”

    On developing Paperless Post: “[James and I were] really focused on not having lives that were really awful and conventional,” Alexa told the Harvard Crimson in a 2011 interview. But starting out wasn’t exactly easy, she said: “The gestation period was really painful. It felt like, ‘Is this ever going to be real?’ We sat in my parents’ living room and we didn’t celebrate any holidays for two years — we both lost a lot of weight.”

    On how her non-technical skills helped her in the tech field: “We’re very contrary to the Internet,” Hirschfeld said in a 2013 interview with The Huffington Post. “So these people who were the scions of the Internet did not get it. They were like, ‘Why would you care what it looks like? Wouldn’t you just want a calendar invite? Why would you want to have an image?’ Like, you know, the Internet’s not about that — we left those formalities back in the real world.”

  • Jack Ma, Alibaba Chairman

    Jack Ma Alibaba CEO
    Andrew Burton—Getty Images Jack Ma poses for a photo outside the NYSE prior to Alibaba's IPO on Sept. 19, 2014 in New York City.

    Degree: B.A. in English, Hangzhou Normal University (Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute), 1988

    On struggling to put his English degree to use: After graduating from college — it took Ma three tries to even pass China’s college entrance exam — Ma faced a string of over 30 job rejections, including a rejection from Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was eventually was hired to teach English at a local college for $20 a month, while also running a small translation company and peddling flowers, books and clothes to support himself on the side. Ma’s English skills later caught the attention of some entrepreneurs, through whom he learned about the Internet. In 1999, he and 17 friends founded Alibaba.com, the global wholesale online marketplace. Its $25 billion IPO in 2014 was the largest ever.

    On why liberal arts education matters, especially for China: With entrepreneurship and innovation critical for China’s future, Ma has emphasized repeatedly why Chinese education needs to be less pre-professional. As Ma shared in an internal speech to his Alibaba employees: “I told my son, ‘You don’t need to be in the top three in your class. Being in the middle is fine, so long as your grades aren’t too bad.’ Only this kind of person has enough free time to learn other skills.”

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