Vanderbilt Magazine

Avery Carpenter Forrey, BA’11: Joy in the Process

Avery Carpenter Forrey (Lacy Kiernan Carroll)

Avery Carpenter Forrey left Nashville before the city’s bachelorette boom, but that’s still a perfect segue into a discussion of her latest book and first novel, Social Engagement (Mariner, 2023). The book was inspired by her fridge covered in wedding invitations and her calendar full of bridal showers. At the start of the novel, Callie Holt is unravelling on her wedding night, binge-eating and binge scrolling on her phone. Callie’s complicated relationships with family, lifelong friends and her own body are unveiled over the course of the book as she goes down an Instagram rabbit hole trying to determine when things went wrong. Hashtags and comments from Callie’s social posts and those of her friends start and end each chapter.

Social media wasn’t such a force when Forrey was at Vanderbilt, but one aspect of her collegiate experience certainly informed Social Engagement. “Vanderbilt was the first place where I felt like I could make a career out of writing,” she says. Creative writing classes with Tony Earley, Samuel Milton Fleming Professor of English, and Alice Randall, writer in residence of African American and Diaspora Studies and holder of the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities, were particularly influential. “They were such wonderful professors and really encouraged us as students to explore our weirdest ideas and plumb our deepest selves,” Forrey says. “Those classes gave me a toolbox and desire for writing fiction.”

She is now writing her second novel in her home state of Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and baby daughter.

Forrey double-majored in English and communications and later earned an MFA from New York University. She went to work on a Cape Town, South Africa, newspaper right after college, then moved to New York and got a job on Katie Couric’s short-lived talk show. “I think the most important part of early career is figuring out what you like, but even more than that, figuring out what you don’t like. I realized that by far my favorite part of the job in TV was writing the tape scripts.”

Next, she went to digital media company theSkimm and co-wrote the New York Times bestselling How to Skimm Your Life. Writing nonfiction prepared Forrey for the brutal task of trimming her manuscript, but writing a novel felt entirely new. “The type of sustained focus that it required was much different than the sprints that I was used to,” Forrey says.

She’d started on a completely different concept about a tattoo artist in 1980s New York City, then wrote a short story about a bachelorette party gone wrong—getting back to those endless invitations. “I had so much fun with this story. I showed it to a friend who worked in publishing, and she said, ‘This is your book,’ ” Forrey says.

The plot took a slightly darker turn during the pandemic when the parties stopped and Forrey entered lockdown like everyone else. Writing Social Engagement was a challenge for her, but not an unpleasant one. “It’s hard work. It’s harder than any creative work I’ve ever done,” she says of writing a novel. “But if you’re opting into doing this, I think you should have joy baked into the process.”