M.F.A. student in creative writing Sarah Gouda
Sarah Gouda took on the role as deputy director of speechwriting to Vice President Kamala Harris when a new administration was entering the White House amid a global pandemic. In that fast-paced environment, Gouda was tasked with composing compelling communications for the vice president, with everything from foreign policy speeches to scripts for social media messaging part of her daily undertaking.
The former White House speechwriter, who is today an M.F.A. student in creative writing at Brooklyn College, had an unlikely start to her career. Gouda earned her first opportunity to write professionally in 2010 after graduating with a degree in zoology from the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “My writing job was composing copy for coupons for Groupon in Chicago. I learned a lot of the principles of good communications there.”
At age 29, she took a leap of faith into a field she had been long eager to join with an internship at West Wing Writers, a firm led by former Clinton and Obama Administration speechwriters. It was there, working for politicians, nonprofit leaders, and CEOs, that Gouda’s passion was sparked for creating compelling speeches that held the possibility of inspiring significant change. “On one day I’d be focusing on anti-poverty initiatives, the next day reproductive rights, and the next about the future of cryptocurrency.”
Following her internship, Gouda was enlisted by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and began composing speeches for activist and then president of the organization, Cecile Richards. With this experience under her belt, Gouda joined a group of accomplished speechwriters from varied backgrounds on the staff of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. It was from there that her expertise was identified, and she was asked to join the 2021 Biden-Harris administration as a deputy speechwriter.
A highlight of Gouda’s time at the White House was the weekly roundtable discussions held by Vice President Harris and her staff. There, different members of the community spoke about their experiences and interests. Some notable guests included leaders from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) community, women of color who were small-business owners, and those who set up broadband lines, working to provide accessible, high-speed internet connectivity throughout the country. Each week’s guests and their causes reflected the bills that the Biden-Harris administration were championing in congress, such as the Build Back Better Bill, put forward in the wake of financial devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gouda, who is also an adviser and former principal at Fenway Strategies, a speechwriting and strategic communications firm, worked on video scripts, social media messaging, and live speeches for Vice President Harris.
“Speechwriting is a service. You must put your own ego and desires aside to best serve the person you’re writing for,” says Gouda, when asked about the challenges of being a speechwriter in the White House. “Things often turn on a dime, and what you set out to write can end up looking quite different. You have to be okay with that!”
As to her return to Brooklyn College last fall for her master’s degree? Having already finished a semester before entering her position at the vice president’s office, Gouda knew that she wanted to continue to pursue fiction writing. She notes that her love of creative writing is a welcome interruption from the high volume and fast-paced nature of speechwriting. “It’s a space where I can follow my own instincts,” she says.