The ‘emotional journey’ through Harvard and beyond
‘Lonely at the Top’
By Christina Lewis Halpern
Kindle Single, Amazon Digital Services
Christina Lewis Halpern wrote an e-memoir that ranks among Amazon’s Top 10 in the categories of Business and Biography & History not far from the latest Steve Jobs bio.
In “Lonely at the Top,” the journalist finds that her father Reginald Lewis’ larger-than-life legacy follows her at every turn — from when she was a student at Harvard to a Wall Street Journal reporter who interviewed some of his peers in the business world, such as Donald Trump. (Lewis’ widow is community and business leader Loida Nicolas Lewis)
At one time the richest black man in America, Lewis is described in the book as “the first black man to own a billion-dollar business…and perhaps the only person to be admitted to Harvard Law School without even applying.”
While Christina struggles to reconcile her father’s name with what she has made of herself as a young journalist (“Did affirmative action make me who I am today, or would I have gotten there, anyway?”), what she learned was he was a regular Joe who got through Harvard on the strength of his “drive, ambition, intelligence and confidence” despite being a mediocre student. Okay, throw race in there and a little bit of luck. The book explains in a lively, non-self promotional way how they all may have worked to create the legend that Lewis had become.
Christina, now 31, lives in Brooklyn with her husband Dan Halpern, a Harper’s magazine journalist, and their infant son, Calvin. She spoke to The FilAm about her “emotional journey” in writing the book. To the end, she remains the journalist who was constantly researching and asking questions and not always finding all the answers.
TF: What’s a Kindle Short?
CLH: There’s community of readers who own Kindle. These people like reading things that are shorter — longer than magazine article but shorter than a traditional book. What’s amazing is that Amazon made the Kindle software available for free. It can be read even if you don’t own a Kindle, just download the free software.
TF: Is this a new way to publish?
CLH: It’s one of the ways where publishing is going. Short books is an exciting area, as not all books may have commercial potential. It’s also a great way writers can monetize their work. This is non-traditional publishing, almost akin to digital self-publishing. I was introduced to the Amazon Single editor by a friend, and he was very helpful in reading the draft of “Lonely at the Top.”
TF: How do you explain the book’s success as a digital memoir? How many copies have been sold, downloaded?
CLH: Amazon will not let us give those numbers out. Let’s just say that they’re very happy at how it’s sold.
TF: What was it like writing the book? Did you get emotional?
CLH: It was very difficult to write but ultimately it was really cathartic. I was very happy with how it turned out. It was an emotional journey. I just put a lot of myself into it.
TF: What were some of the revealing details you learned about your father?
CLH: I was surprised at the grades. People have this idea that good grades would make one a good lawyer. People would think of grades in terms of Harvard. People think that with good grades you’ll be good at that job, like good grades in English will make you a good writer. That’s not necessarily true in my father’s story. I think my father would be great candidate for Harvard Law then and Harvard Law now given his work ethic and personal story and track record for achievement.
TF: Are you comfortable being labeled an heiress in the book?
CLH: Is it a label or is it fact? I am what I am. I don’t think I should be ashamed.
TF: Did you feel that a lot of doors opened for you because you are the daughter of Reginald F. Lewis?
CLH: I have had opportunities and I’ve met certain people because of my father’s success. I talk about that in the book — how exactly my hard work versus my family background have helped me in my career. Amazon, for instance, didn’t agree to accept my manuscript because I’m an heiress but because they liked what they read. That’s my opinion.
TF: Where would you have wanted to study if Harvard was not an option?
CLH: I applied early so I got into Harvard early. But if Harvard rejected me and I would have applied to many schools. I would have applied to Yale.
TF: Which of your father’s remarkable traits did you acquire?
CLH: I’ve been told I have some of his perseverance, something he and my mother always emphasized to us and I’ve tried to never take for granted. He was a very perceptive person and I hope to have some of that too.