The Paula Gordon Show Logo The Paula Gordon Show
Citizen Abrams

Stacey Abrams

     ... lawyer and romance novelist. Former Deputy Attorney for Government Counsel, Development and Infrastructure for the City of Atlanta, Georgia, she is now active in electoral politics as a candidate. She also writes award-winning romance fiction under her pen name, Selena Montgomery, the latest of which, Hidden Sins, was published in May, 2006. Ms. Abrams is widely recognized as one of America's foremost young leaders, with awards for work on policy, taxation and non-profit arenas. A graduate of Yale Law School, Spelman College and a Truman Fellow, she co-founded, edited and contributed to the "Content of Our Character" project and the Ford Foundation's "Youth Commission on Urban Poverty."


Want to live in the world that you imagine? Good: Write a novel. Better: Work on public policy. Best: Do both as Stacey Abrams does, with the help of Selena Montgomery. Not-acting hasn't turned out so well, Ms. Abrams notes, so why not act? There's a moment and a place for every person, whatever you do for a living, to step in and to make change, she is certain.

Ms. Abrams used to be a tax lawyer. When offered the opportunity to make a lot less money by going to work for the City of Atlanta as a Deputy City Attorney, she jumped at the chance to work for a Mayor and City Council in creating a great city, one policy decision at a time.

Whether carefully evaluating policies for Atlanta's Mayor and City Council and making sure they adhered to the laws they'd set for themselves, or writing award-winning romance novels under the pen name “Selena Montgomery,” Stacey Abrams is convinced that actions matter. So do words.

Selena Montgomery does not hesitate to use a fifty-cent word as juicy as the love scenes and alternative realities that propel romance novels to the top of the world's best-seller lists. Stacey Abrams' words are grounded in action, not dictionaries, shaped by strong parents and enriched by experience with other Truman Fellows, exploring "The Content of our Character -- Ethics and Leadership in the 21st Century."

Morality?  It's the moment-by-moment, daily decision to be of help to others, to see the world as it could be, she believes. Integrity? Doing the hard work to integrate what you believe and how you act into a consistent whole. What about leadership? It's about acknowledging a problem at the moment it exists, and then doing everything in your power to solve it.

Novels and policy can look surprisingly similar. Want to address the issue of homelessness? You can't avoid issues of housing. Address the issue of housing and issues of watershed management arise. Think about watershed management and the environment comes front and center. Each solution, each achievement, necessarily creates for itself another problem, she readily acknowledges. With a bow to Aristotle, Ms. Abrams continues -- in really solid writing and stores, you create a problem. Then you complicate the problem. You solve the problem. But in the solution, you immediately have to create a new problem. Sound familiar?

So, the best novels and the best work of an attorney have a great deal in common, Ms. Abrams found. Both must acknowledge that each new problem is not a "bad" thing-- there is nothing inherently wrong with a problem, as long as one is willing to attack and solve it. Recognize that life is lived best when you are trying to complicate it and find a new solution each time.

This kind of hopefulness fills Stacey Abrams/Selena Montgomery's romance novels -- travails happen, mountains are scaled, in the end there's some happiness -- just as it does the public policies she promotes.  Both embrace life's adventures, both demand action, and both advance visions of worlds worth imagining.

[This Program was recorded March 10, 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Stacey Abrams describes how her her life as a public policy lawyer and her life as the successful author of romance novels connect for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell.  Ms. Abrams suggestions how and why everyone can and should be active in our communities

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:36

Conversation 2

With an overview of her approach to the world, Ms. Abrams insists younger people should not be let off the hook -- everyone, no matter what age, has an obligation to make every moment a moment of action. She credits how her parents' actions led her to this perspective, now continually reinforced by her own experiences. Leadership is about acknowledging a problem at the moment it exists and doing everything in your power to solve it, she says, then amplifies on why the possibility you change things -- a little or a lot -- should be a motivation to act.  She introduces "Selena Montgomery" (her nom de plume).

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:50

Conversation 3

Language matters and Ms. Abrams/Montgomery rejoices in and defends "big words" as an alternative to "dumbed-down" mass media. The community of those who read romance novels is the best, she says, and describes them, including men readers in "brown bag clubs." She expands on the sense of opportunity Selena Montgomery offers them all, in surprising aspects of their lives.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:56

Conversation 4


Convinced of the importance of place, Ms. Abrams/Montgomery gives examples from her novels -- a really good novel requires that the place in which it is set to be a character, too, she says. She draws direct parallels between finding solutions in the plots in her novels to her work as a deputy City Attorney in Atlanta, GA.  Adapting Aristotle's description of art, Ms. Abrams/Montgomery explains what she believes is the most critical element to writing any story, also sharing the good advice Pearl Cleage offered.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:26

Conversation 5

What does it mean to be a person of character?  What does the content of our character look like? Ms. Abrams describes the project she co-founded with other Truman Fellows, challenging themselves to answer those questions themselves and keeping alive the questions. Morality is not an abstract idea, it's a daily decision to engage, she says, expanding on how she has experienced living this way. She identifies the moment when others, too, can step in and be the instrument of genuine change. Not-acting hasn't worked, she observes, why not act?

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:17

Conversation 6

Integrity is about integrating what you believe and how you act to create a consistent whole, she says. It's hard, she acknowledges, but the end result is much better than were it comfy and easy to live a life of integrity.

Conversation 1 RealAudio4:36


Stacey Abrams' commitment to and active civic engagement in the democractic process at many levels is laudible in a person of any age. We are all the more encouraging that she leads young people by example -- individuals in a nation "Of the People, For the People and By the People" must not wait for "later" to share our responsibilities for each other and to advance liberty and justice for all.

We thank the 191 Club in Atlanta, GA, for hosting this event.

Related Links:

Stacey Abram's website ,

Learn more about the "Content of our Character”" project -- promoting “"honest, public deliberation about ethical leadership" -- at their website .

For more on Ms. Abrams' writing career, which she pursues as “"Selena Montgomery", visit the "official Selena Montgomery website, where suspense meets romance."

Like Ms. Abrams, Angela Glover Blackwell is a lawyer and a community activist, though she is based on the other side of the country in Oakland, California.

Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Community Foodbank and one of the founders of Second Harvest, uses his work feeding the hungry of Atlanta and Georgia and the U.S. to help build stronger communities.

Fellow Atlanta author, Pearl Cleage also uses her art and candid truth-telling to improve the lives of people in her communities.

As discussed in the program, James Davison Hunter reports that "character" comes from the communities we inhabit, not from classroom "moral or character education" programs; and ABC News correspondent Robert Krulwich "reports" on the dumbing-down of news.

Paul Loeb agrees that we change the world one person at a time, one act at a time, while working together.

Novelist, essayist and critic Curtis White pleads for the revitalization of our imaginations as a key to solving seemingly intractable problems.

Quick buttons

© 2006 The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are
copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may
not be used in any way without the express,
written consent of Paula Gordon.