Terry McMillan has a message for young people, or any of us striving for a better life: It takes time.
She was 14, growing up north of Detroit, when she worked as a library page shelving books. The pay was $1.25 an hour. One of five siblings, she remembers a household with just one book — the Bible.
Driven by a mother with goals for her kids, McMillan earned a bachelor’s degree at University of California, Berkeley. She is now included in that venerable institution’s Wall of Fame.
By then, she’d had lots of jobs. She worked as a word processor and for an insurance company. At 18 or 19, she didn’t yet dream of writing stories about strong black women.
McMillan will share her experiences Tuesday in Everett. She is scheduled to speak at the YWCA Inspire Luncheon, which starts at noon Tuesday in the conference center at Xfinity Arena.
“A lot of young girls are disenfranchised growing up,” said McMillan, 65, who lives in Pasadena, California. “Their confidence level needs to be pumped up so they know their own self-worth. Sometimes circumstances make it difficult. What the YWCA is trying to do, I’m grateful to them,” she said Thursday in a phone interview.
A nonprofit agency, YWCA Seattle, King Snohomish provides housing, mental health counseling, drug treatment, job-skills training and other services. Rick Steves, who operates an Edmonds-based travel business, recently donated the 24-unit Trinity Place apartment complex in Lynnwood to the YWCA.
Most Trinity Place tenants are low-income single mothers.
At its regional center in Everett, the YWCA oversees a domestic violence program to help children, provides career clothing, and offers housing vouchers for people with disabilities.
All money raised at Tuesday’s lunch will support programs in Snohomish County, said Annalee Schafranek, public relations and marketing manager for YWCA Seattle King Snohomish.
McMillan’s latest novel is “I Almost Forgot About You.” It centers on a new phase in a professional woman’s life.
The author said young people can’t expect overnight success.
“They don’t understand how life really is. It doesn’t all happen to you at 21 or even 31,” said McMillan, whose 33-year-old son is a Stanford University graduate. “It’s hard. Everybody is interested in being either rich or famous.”
She blames that partly on social media. “So many young people are self-absorbed. I don’t know how many selfies you can take,” she quipped.
McMillan is encouraged by what she sees as an awakening of activism, from the Black Lives Matter movement to women’s marches that have brought crowds into the streets. “They’re realizing their lives can be affected by what happens in the White House,” she said.
Success can’t be measured by money alone, the author said. “I know people who went to law school or have an MBA and are working for corporations on the 30th floor, but they are bored to death,” McMillan said.
Money matters, but following one’s heart and finding work “that means something is almost as important,” she said. “You can do both. They should stress to kids at the middle school level to find out their real interests, talents and skills.”
The author of nearly a dozen books knows that a seemingly impractical career path can bring fortune and fame. McMillan is also a screenwriter. Her novels “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” became feature films, both starring Angela Bassett. Other books were made into TV movies.
The book is always better than the movie, if you ask me. McMillan said that so far, she’s pleased with how Hollywood translates her stories for the screen.
At what some consider retirement age, she keeps on writing — three to four hours most days.
“I just wake up at the crack of dawn. I’m up every morning by 5,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best-selling author Terry McMillan is scheduled to speak at the YWCA Inspire Luncheon, noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Xfinity Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave., Everett. There is no charge to attend, but guests will be asked to donate to YWCA Seattle King Snohomish. Luncheon registration closed, but unregistered guests may check in at the door starting at 11 a.m. Tuesday.