Ellen Goodman


When Ellen Goodman is asked to explain her life’s work as a social commentator, she likes to tell a story. Many years ago, she overheard her young daughter Katie talking with a friend. The girl asked Katie, “What does your mother do?” Katie answered, “She’s a columnist.” Her friend quite sensibly asked, “What’s that?”

There was a long silence from the other room and finally Ellen heard Katie answer: “My mom gets paid for telling people what she thinks.” This is still as good a job description as any.

For decades, Ellen has been telling people what she thinks in her syndicated column that appeared in over 300 newspapers, as well as in speeches, on television and radio, on-line and in books. In the process, the Pulitzer prize winner has honed a place uniquely her own.

In a world in which opinion writing has become a combat sport called opinion-hurling, a time when politics has become polarized. and political debate looks like a food fight, Ellen offers something else: thoughtfulness. As she has said, “I write for people who argue with both hands, the one and the other, and occasionally end up with them clasped together.” In a fast-moving world of information overload, she makes a very rare product. She makes sense.

Whether talking and writing about the political or the personal, the American family or her own family, the fast-paced 24/7 world of the internet or the slow world of a tidal cove in Maine, her subject is values.

Ellen has followed the women’s movement---which she thinks of literally as the movement of women from one lifestyle to many. She’s followed that moving target from Supermom’s adventures to Sarah Palin's misadventures.

She’s written as well about the challenges of bioethics as well as those of parenting in an era when mothers and fathers have become the counter-culture---the people who have to counter the Britney and Xbox culture. Her tools in this work, she has said are “skepticism, the perspective that we call humor and, I guess, something in the DNA that says, ‘hey, wait a minute.’”

Ellen co-found The Conversation Project in 2010 when a group of colleagues and concerned media, clergy, and medical professionals gathered to share stories of “good deaths” and “bad deaths” within their own circle of loved ones. Over several months, a vision emerged for a grassroots public campaign spanning both traditional and new media that would change our culture. The goal: to make it easier to initiate conversations about dying, and to encourage people to talk now and as often as necessary so that their wishes are known when the time comes.