I met Jo Watson Hackl when I was living in Greenville SC, but, ironically, I didn’t really get to know her until I moved away. She is super smart, an attribute that she fully employs in her career as a corporate and securities attorney with Wyche law firm in Greenville, South Carolina. www.wyche.com. Jo has served as lead counsel on public registrations of stocks and debt securities that total over a billion dollars. Jo currently serves as Chair of the Board of the Community Foundation of Greenville and President of the Emrys Foundation and is immediate past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Greenville Area Development Corporation. She is past President of the Greenville County Bar Association and past President of the Greenville Professional Women’s Forum. Jo is listed in Best Lawyers in America®, a leading legal referral guide, and her pro bono work has been featured in American Barrister magazine. Jo is a Liberty Fellow and serves as Co-Chair of the Liberty Fellowship Economic Development Forum. Jo received her Juris Doctorate degree from Yale University Law School, where she received the Israel Peres Award for best student contribution to The Yale Law Journal. Jo received her Bachelor of Arts from Millsaps College with high honors. Jo is a recipient of the Richard Riley Pro Bono Award and the Peace Center for the Performing Arts Philanthropist of the Year award.
Jo is married to Robert Hackl, chef and co-owner of Augusta Grill and the couple has three children. In their free time, Jo and her family raise fruits, vegetables, flowers and many, many weeds. Jo also takes as many black and white photographs of her family as they will tolerate and writes every day. You’ll see more about her writing later in this post. Now for the questions!
Jo, it’s clear that you have brain-power a-plenty! What is your favorite way to flaunt it? Whether it is the intricate details of economic development strategy (in my legal and community work) or the best way to start a fire if you’re out in the woods without a match (in my writing), I enjoy challenging myself to find out what makes thing tick.
What aspects of your career are most stimulating to your brain?I love working with brilliant, talented people and learning new things every day. I particularly enjoy learning how businesses work, the goals of the management team, and how the team works together to create and sustain their corporate culture. Helping businesses achieve their goals is satisfying and my colleagues are smart, kind and interesting.
How what is the attitude toward brainy women in the legal profession?Attitudes have changed. When I first started my career, there were few women lawyers in our community and clients often assumed I must be a secretary or paralegal. Now women are very well-represented in the profession. My law firm has a culture of supporting and developing women and has established a “Women of Wyche” group whose members help champion and support each other.
What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick? I grew up in rural Mississippi in one of the poorest counties in the state. Along with support from my family, I credit my nerdiness for getting me into Yale Law School. Once at Yale Law School my nerdiness helped me do well there and inspired me to take risks. At that time students traditionally wrote articles analyzing cases and legal trends in order to try to earn a coveted spot on The Yale Law Journal staff. I teamed up with my roommate to undertake a different kind of venture- we conducted an empirical study to determine whether state anti-takeover statutes then in effect actually did what they were supposed to do- maximize shareholder wealth. We concluded that they did not. Not only did we both earn a spot on The Yale Law Journal staff, but we also were awarded the Israel H. Peres prize for the best student contribution to the journal that year.
That’s awesome! So looking back, if you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Be comfortable being nerdy! You’ll have more fun and you’ll help other people connect with their inner nerd.
What’s cool about being nerdy? Being curious. You can learn something from everyone you meet if you just ask the right questions. Whether it is about how their business works, how to tell the temperature from a rhododendron leaf, or how to start a fire with only a plastic bag and some water, learning something new makes your day more interesting.
True! Tell us about a well-known fictitious chick you admire and why you admire her. My favorite character is Claudia Kincaid in From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She and her brother ran away to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and ended up solving a mystery involving a Michelangelo sculpture. I love how Claudia stepped outside her comfort zone and let her sense of her curiosity take her on an adventure.
I love thinking of curiosity as an asset. Can you share a favorite song, quote, or movie that speaks to your inner nerdiness? O’Brother Where Art Thou?- a movie based on Homer’s Odyssey and set in the Depression-era South. This combination is absolutely inspired!
That is a great movie. What’s something you like to do that might be considered a tad bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? Writing- it is the perfect combination of the wildly creative and the analytical processes- and I think I’ve finally figured out how to give myself permission to write a really bad (but creative) first draft and then go back and revise the manuscript into shape.
I also love to go to art shows and learn not only about the physical process of creating a piece but also about the artist’s mental process behind each decision- medium, subject matter, etc. – in the piece and what he or she hopes to communicate to the viewer.
Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please! Writing, although it is much more than a hobby I have completed my first novel, an outdoor adventure meets art mystery story set in a Mississippi ghost town, and am at work on my second involving a fishing prodigy, her Johnny-Cash obsessed older sister, a catfish wrestler, a funeral director and a floating gospel choir. I am represented by the wonderful Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. The story on which I am working now is set along the banks of the Tombigbee River, near where I grew up. As part of the research, my father and I traveled 226miles down that river. I took loads of notes and pictures and went through two bottles of bug spray. We encountered blinding rain and lots of alligators and our boat almost got sucked over a dam. I’ll go through just about anything for a great story and to make sure I get my facts right!
Thanks so much Jo for joining us today. If you want to hear more from Jo, you can! She is also a regular columnist on writing topics for the Pen & Palette, published by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Carolinas chapter. You can see some of her columns HERE. An active member of SCBWI, Jo retired from being SCBWI Caroloinas ARA last year to be able to spend more time on her writing.
Thanks Kami and Jo for this wonderful interview. Jo, I am always amazed at your energy, accomplishments and abilities. Tell me, do you ever sleep?? I think the river trip with your father sounds amazing!
Thanks so much, Carol! It’s mutual. And I look forward to trading research stories at the next conference.
Thanks for reading Carol! I’m glad that Jo let me interview her. I found out so much that I didn’t know! She’s amazing!
Jo, I’m always amazed at how someone with so much intellect, talent, and so many great accomplishments is still so darn nice, helpful, humble, soft-spoken, and genuinely friendly to everyone. It’s great to know you and it was great to have you as our ARA at SCBWI Carolinas! I look forward to reading both books when they eventually make it to the book store shelves!
Kami – great interview!
Jo is a super role model for girls. Kami, I’m so glad you interviewed her. What a great example that shows “nerdy chicks rule.” YES, they do!
Way to go Jo! I loved & respected you before, but now I’m in awe.
What an impressive life you live, Jo! You’re a model for all of us. I’m looking forward to reading your books. Thank you for sharing the interview, Jo and Kami.
BTW, here’s a nerdy grammatical tidbit: “tad” is a noun and is not properly used as an adjective. It should be simply “a tad nerdy,” and not “a tad bit.” Also, “tad” means “bit,” so “tad bit” would be redundant.
You must not be a Southern nerd! Down here, “tad” is an adjective meaning somthing slightly smaller than “little” and is sometimes a necessary modifier of the word “bit” to distinguish the magnitude of the bit from the substantially larger “good bit.” When “bit” is used alone, it should be inferred that the magnitude of the bit is “fair to middlin'”.
Thanks so much for sharing this interview! That river trip sounds amazing–I can’t wait to read about it in the new WIP.
Many thanks, everyone! So honored to be part of this dynamic community of incredibly smart and supportive women.
Jo is all this and more. Jo was one of my primary mentors when I was an associate at the Wyche law firm playing second fiddle on her securities offerings. She is a truly outstanding attorney and person and a great role model for anyone. She is more than a tad bit nerdy – I would say at least a “good bit” nerdy – but that’s a good thing.