Women to Admire: Nora Ephron


With her singular voice, unflappable strength, and seemingly infinite wisdom, Nora Ephron and her work came to influence a generation of female writers.

Nora Ephron has never seemed like just a writer to me. I’ve never thought of her in the limited terms of the hundreds of essays she wrote, nor the broken-heart-into-art novel she penned, or even the movies she made that are now undeniable classics.

After discovering her as a teenager and devouring all of the above, I became fascinated with Nora Ephron. However, it was not simply for her writing, her voice as a director, or her work as a journalist. Instead, it was her force of nature that feels almost like a higher power.

She was everywhere. She had the answers to everything. Ephron had an opinion on all matters and that opinion always seemed categorically correct. She was, as Julie Powell refers to her ever-present idol Julia Child in Ephron’s movie Julie & Julia, a Great Big Good Fairy. And she worked hard to get there.

Ephron grew up in a household full of writers, which started with her parents and trickled down to all four Ephron sisters. Her proper career started when, after college, she applied at Newsweek and was told they didn’t hire female writers. Because she was resilient, brilliant, and innately empowered, she decided to pay no mind to the men behind the paper. Instead, she kickstarted what would come to be a decades-long career as an essayist, a journalist, and eventually, a novelist.

Her written pieces are the bedrock of her influence for millions of young writers. However, her work as a screenwriter introduced her fiercely pointed and deliciously comforting voice to the whole world. Ephron’s first feature, Silkwood, earned her an Oscar nomination. Her second film, Heartburn, is one of the best nevertheless-she-persisted stories in Hollywood.

After her husband (journalist Carl Bernstein) cheated on her while she was pregnant and toting around a toddler, Ephron decided that the best revenge would be her words and wit. Unsurprisingly, she was right. Though the film wasn’t a critically reviewed hit, audiences became enraptured by the humanity in her characters, her strong female heroes, and the hilarity that she was always able to access amid tragedy.

Writing about what came next feels like explaining the origin of Santa Claus to a group of middle schoolers. Ephron made more movies, most notably When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie & Julia. With sharp-tongued, head-strong women at their centers and never an ounce of inauthenticity, her would-be typical rom-coms transcended the cookie-cutter mold. She wrote about complicated women dealing with often undesirable men. Her characters were three-dimensional, with actual personalities, needs, desires, and unique ways of ordering at diners.

Ephron turned a genre on its heads that often treated women as the passive object of men’s desires. She successfully showed falling in love as an active, interesting, emotional, human choice. She even flipped her own script in her last film, Julie & Julia, and wrote a love story we’d rarely seen before: one between a young woman and her heroine.

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So though her career was vast and spanned genres, her films changed the landscape (as well as many of our opinions on falling in love). Her writing has come to serve as religious text for many women. Ephron’s ever-looming influence is what remains most strongly in the wake of her passing. She’s the Julia to many of our lost, searching, passionate Julies. She just knows, and she has an answer for everything.

How lucky we are that she left us to discover those answers ourselves in the most magical way: within her writing.

Editor’s Note: Every day in March, we here at Culturess will feature a Woman to Admire — both real and fictional — for Women’s History Month. Keep coming back every day to see who’s made it on the list.