Voices Heard, Stories Seen: Mackenzi Lee '14MFA on her #MeToo Essay and New Book
Simmons helped me develop the essential skill of taking myself and my work as a writer seriously and prioritizing it, which I think can be very difficult for writers who are just starting out. There were such incredible resources available to me, and I got to work with mentors who continue to influence my work and career.
Mackenzi Lee ’14MFA may be most wellknown for her New York Times best-selling young adult series that follows the spirited Montague siblings, but her recently published essay tackles a more serious topic, the #MeToo movement.
This winter, Lee was featured in You Too?, a collection of timely essays for teens inspired by the #MeToo movement. In her piece, Lee wrote about her religious upbringing and the influence it had on her relationship with sex, sexuality, and sexual assault.
“It was a difficult essay to write, and I found myself falling into an old habit of dismissing my own experiences with sexual assault, as they were not as traumatic as other stories in the book,” Lee says. “Working on the essay was a critical moment in acknowledging this dismissal and starting to work to dismantle it. I hope it adds to a larger conversation and will inspire others to continue building upon truth and destroying stigmas.”
Lee is keenly aware of the powerful experience of reading books, and the lifelong impact stories can have—particularly as a child. “It shapes who you are,” Lee says. “Children and young adults are so unbridled in their enthusiasm for the things they love. It’s wonderful to write for an audience that is so open to receiving the stories you’re telling, and how you have the potential to hopefully positively impact them.”
Lee published the first book in her Montague siblings series, A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, in 2017. The idea for the book arose out of “a long frustration with how straight, white, and male most mainstream history narratives are.”
“I wanted to write a silly, fun, tropey adventure novel, but featuring characters who have traditionally been excluded from these narratives in the (false) name of historical accuracy,” she says.
Fans of the Montague siblings won’t have to wait to much longer for the next book in the series, as The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks is scheduled for release in August. According to Lee, it takes place almost 20 years after The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Readers will have the opportunity to experience their favorite characters—Monty, Percy and Felicity—as adults, and see how their lives have progressed and intersect with the little brother they left behind.
Lee earned her MFA from Simmons, and recalls her time there as pivotal in her writing career.
“My writing skills improved tremendously, but most importantly, Simmons helped me develop the essential skill of taking myself and my work as a writer seriously and prioritizing it, which I think can be very difficult for writers who are just starting out,” Lee says. “There were such incredible resources available to me, and I got to work with mentors who continue to influence my work and career.”
One of Lee’s favorite Simmons memories is a reading evening that took place before commencement, where the graduating MFA class shared excerpts from their creative projects.
“I remember being so proud of how far we had come in two years together, and how we were all working on such different, interesting projects and had been able to support each other,” Lee says. “I felt very lucky. I also remember there were really great cookies afterward.”
When Lee isn’t writing you can often find her working in an independent bookstore or hanging out with her dog.
“I love dogs so much I actually wrote a book about them called The History of the World in 50 Dogs,” Lee says. “Most of my writing is done with my enormous St. Bernard snoring in the background, so it’s almost impossible to say anything I write isn’t influenced by dogs.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of the Simmons Magazine.