March 20, 2012

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An Interview with Jo Watson Hackl, as seen on the blog, Nerdy Chicks Rule

Nerdy Chicks Rule is a blog launched by Kami Kinard which celebrates the accomplishments of females who aren’t afraid to use brain power. On the blog, Kinard features weekly interviews with “cool nerdy chicks” and our very own Jo Watson Hackl recently shared her thoughts on why being nerdy is cool. The full interview is included below.

Jo, it’s clear that you have brain-power a-plenty! What is your favorite way to flaunt it?
Whether it is the intricate details of economic development strategy (in my legal and community work) or the best way to start a fire if you’re out in the woods without a match (in my writing), I enjoy challenging myself to find out what makes thing tick.

What aspects of your career are most stimulating to your brain?
I love working with brilliant, talented people and learning new things every day. I particularly enjoy learning how businesses work, the goals of the management team, and how the team works together to create and sustain their corporate culture. Helping businesses achieve their goals is satisfying and my colleagues are smart, kind and interesting.

How what is the attitude toward brainy women in the legal profession?
Attitudes have changed. When I first started my career, there were few women lawyers in our community and clients often assumed I must be a secretary or paralegal. Now women are very well-represented in the profession. My law firm has a culture of supporting and developing women and has established a “Women of Wyche” group whose members help champion and support each other.

What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?
I grew up in rural Mississippi in one of the poorest counties in the state. Along with support from my family, I credit my nerdiness for getting me into Yale Law School. Once at Yale Law School my nerdiness helped me do well there and inspired me to take risks. At that time students traditionally wrote articles analyzing cases and legal trends in order to try to earn a coveted spot on The Yale Law Journal staff. I teamed up with my roommate to undertake a different kind of venture- we conducted an empirical study to determine whether state anti-takeover statutes then in effect actually did what they were supposed to do- maximize shareholder wealth. We concluded that they did not. Not only did we both earn a spot on The Yale Law Journal staff, but we also were awarded the Israel H. Peres prize for the best student contribution to the journal that year.

That’s awesome! So looking back, if you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be comfortable being nerdy! You’ll have more fun and you’ll help other people connect with their inner nerd.

What’s cool about being nerdy?
Being curious. You can learn something from everyone you meet if you just ask the right questions. Whether it is about how their business works, how to tell the temperature from a rhododendron leaf, or how to start a fire with only a plastic bag and some water, learning something new makes your day more interesting.

True! Tell us about a well-known fictitious chick you admire and why you admire her.
My favorite character is Claudia Kincaid in From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She and her brother ran away to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and ended up solving a mystery involving a Michelangelo sculpture. I love how Claudia stepped outside her comfort zone and let her sense of her curiosity take her on an adventure.

I love thinking of curiosity as an asset. Can you share a favorite song, quote, or movie that speaks to your inner nerdiness?
O’Brother Where Art Thou?- a movie based on Homer’s Odyssey and set in the Depression-era South. This combination is absolutely inspired!

That is a great movie. What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?
Writing- it is the perfect combination of the wildly creative and the analytical processes- and I think I’ve finally figured out how to give myself permission to write a really bad (but creative) first draft and then go back and revise the manuscript into shape. I also love to go to art shows and learn not only about the physical process of creating a piece but also about the artist’s mental process behind each decision- medium, subject matter, etc. – in the piece and what he or she hopes to communicate to the viewer.

Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please!
Writing, although it is much more than a hobby I have completed my first novel, an outdoor adventure meets art mystery story set in a Mississippi ghost town, and am at work on my second involving a fishing prodigy, her Johnny-Cash obsessed older sister, a catfish wrestler, a funeral director and a floating gospel choir. I am represented by the wonderful Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. The story on which I am working now is set along the banks of the Tombigbee River, near where I grew up. As part of the research, my father and I traveled 226miles down that river. I took loads of notes and pictures and went through two bottles of bug spray. We encountered blinding rain and lots of alligators and our boat almost got sucked over a dam. I’ll go through just about anything for a great story and to make sure I get my facts right!

Visit the Nerdy Chicks Rule blog to read more about Jo and other “brainy females.”