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Award-winning screenwriter shares insights for writing, and life

Screenwriter and television writer-producer Margaret Nagle (C83), the winner of two Writers Guild of America Awards and two Emmy nominations, had lunch with School of Communication writing students in the book-lined living room of the John Evans House earlier this month, urging them, over pad thai and dragon noodles, to "find your voice and stand behind it." She was joined by Bill Bleich, senior lecturer of radio, television, and film, and performance studies professor Carol Simpson Stern, who Nagle called her "favorite teacher."

Nagle is currently writing and producing an HBO pilot for Academy Award nominee Viola Davis, as well as developing a movie with Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt. She has written two episodes for HBO's Boardwalk Empire, as well as served as supervising producer of the show's first two seasons, and she was recently invited by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to be a member of the Imagine/Relliance Writers Lab, a trailblazing, experimental screenwriters workshop.

The very first script Nagle wrote, HBO's Warm Springs, about Franklin Roosevelt's search for cures for his paralysis, won five Emmy Awards, including the 2005 Emmy Award for Best Television Movie, and received an unprecedented sixteen nominations. She is currently at work on a sequel that will focus on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's marriage during his first run for the presidency.

Nagle told the students the thing she valued most about her Northwestern education was "being taught to be really fearless about taking on new material. You're taught here to stand behind what you think, which is really important," she said, since in art, as in life, "You have to have a point of view."

She encouraged students to "apply all of your education to your work and develop the stamina of a long-distance athlete, because you're going to lose more than you win." Talking for over an hour, Nagle was generous, dynamic, and frank. She offered chummy advice ("Don't let anybody else's success freak you out"), as well as technical tips for the writers in the room: save every draft you write, and learn how to pitch. "I've seen writers who are so nervous in meetings that they make everybody in the room sweat or want to start crying," she said. "It's your job to make them comfortable. That way, they can hear your story."

Warmly reminiscing about her Northwestern classmates, many of whom she is still in close contact with, Nagle told the students that, along with the classes and artistic opportunities the university offers, "One of the greatest resources you have is each other."