Lily Brooks-Dalton is one of the lucky ones who does what she loves for a living. She has been able to turn her hobbies of reading and writing into a career as a multi-book author, screenwriter, and collaborator on a Netflix film adapted from one of her books.
Lily’s journey to reach this point in her career was long and winding, and it started at CCV.
At 15 years old, Lily felt like school wasn’t working. Her unhappiness led to the choice to leave high school and instead enroll at CCV-Brattleboro after learning about the opportunity through a family friend who was a CCV faculty member. She started off with a few night classes while working as a waitress, and soon realized that she had made the right decision. “I just realized that going to CCV was a much better fit for me. It felt manageable in a way that high school felt unmanageable. I could work at the same time, during the day. And I just realized that if I took enough classes I could end up skipping ahead a little bit with my education.” Lily took classes every semester and over winter breaks to get her associate degree in liberal arts by the time she was 17. She said that CCV “felt like this secret path that no one told me about that I just found by accident. I just felt like ‘everyone should know about this.’ It’s a great way to do it.”
During her time at CCV Lily enjoyed the challenge of being a college student. “I really appreciated being able to be in such a diverse learning environment, learning alongside people who were at all different stages of their lives and on their educational path. I found that really inspiring and stimulating.” She also enjoyed having the ability to build her own experience by structuring her schedule and the number of classes she was taking, as well as choosing classes that interested her. “I really appreciated about CCV that it’s built to accommodate people who are doing all kinds of different things, who are interested in all kinds of different things,” Lily said.
The confidence and sense of responsibility that she developed at CCV, among other skills, prepared Lily for traveling the world after graduation. She worked as a waitress and bartender, for a market research firm in Australia and a stringed instrument maker in Ireland, and at an organic farm in Italy. She taught English in India, and taught writing classes in various other countries. During this time, Lily realized that she wanted to continue her education. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in writing.
Throughout these experiences, accomplishments, and big changes in Lily’s life, one thing didn’t change: her love of writing. Lily started writing at a young age but didn’t see it as a viable career path until the end of her time as an undergraduate student. A professor encouraged her to pursue her hobby as a career and to publish a collection of essays which turned into her first book, Motorcycles I’ve Loved: A Memoir. This step to a career in writing didn’t come without a learning curve. With Google as her best teacher, Lily figured out how to break into the industry, including steps to writing a book and the next step of “finding a home for the book” – a place to publish it.
After feeling her way around the process of writing and publishing her first book, Lily began to work on her second, Good Morning, Midnight. She was working at a radio station in Massachusetts at the time, and became interested in the physics of radio. She expanded on the idea that in today’s world, communication and technology are so complex and widespread, and yet a natural disaster could strip it all away. When that happens, what are we left with? Radio operators. Lily said this was the impetus of her book, that radio is an “old but enduring and steadfast communication method.”
Good Morning, Midnight, based off of the themes of connection and isolation, was a book for two years before there was an interest in turning it into a movie. Lily sold the film rights to the production company Anonymous Content, which then hired a screenwriter to develop the script. “It’s a strange experience to pass a story that is yours, that you’ve built from scratch, off to another person to do whatever they want with,” Lily said. The script was picked up by George Clooney and developed into the Netflix film The Midnight Sky, which was released late last year. “It was really important for me to let go of the book and let it have this second life and be happy with the life I gave it as a book, and then to acknowledge now it would become something else…a new piece of art that’s inspired by the book but is its own entity.”
The creation of the film opened a door for Lily into the world of screenwriting. “I found it really pleasant to be able to hit pause on a book that I’ve been wrestling with for years and just take a break and still do something creative…that feeling of completing a project, seeing something from the beginning to its end – that is an important feeling.” Working on smaller projects and screenplays has allowed Lily the space to recharge her confidence in her writing, and has given her the chance to have new experiences such as writing for a TV show.
These opportunities never would have been possible without Lily’s education. “Having this degree from CCV opened doors in my travels to jobs that wouldn’t have been accessible to me otherwise, and to experiences that wouldn’t have been accessible to me,” she said. Lily recognizes the value that society places on having a degree, but she said that the value doesn’t stop once you get the diploma. “My CCV degree was ultimately really valuable to me because I chose it. Because I was excited by it. Not because it was something someone else told me I had to do…education is at its most powerful when it’s a choice that the learner makes. And that’s something I learned at CCV.”
Looking to the future, Lily is working on releasing another book and plans to continue doing what she loves: writing. “I feel really lucky to have found work that feels so inspiring, and I just want to keep doing it for as long as anyone will let me.”