Honoring women and their trailblazing careers in Middle East policy
For Women’s History Month, MEPC is highlighting the outstanding contributions of women on our staff and in the diplomatic world. Anne Joyce has been the editor of the Council’s signature journal Middle East Policy since 1984 and has overseen its transformation from a small in-house production to one of the world’s most cited policy publications. In addition, she serves as MEPC Vice-President and is an ex-officio member of the board. MEPC catches up with Anne virtually as she is working remotely from her home in Northern Virginia.
- How did you become involved with MEPC?
Initially, it was all a matter of luck. I moved here in 1980 with my MA in Linguistics and was hired at Georgetown University’s American Language Institute. Another teacher that I worked with there, George Naifeh, had just retired from the Foreign Service. Three years later he left to establish the Council. He needed help publishing the journal and offered me a job. After my two wonderful colleagues Anne Luppi and Erik Peterson left, I was promoted to editor of the journal, though he hesitated to make a woman the editor!
- Can you tell us more about what it meant to become the journal’s first woman editor?
I didn’t think a thing about it! I knew I was a woman and that my boss had made the decision to give me the job. It didn’t strike me as such as novelty as it does today, when I look at how few women have been the editors of publications like ours. Of course, in spite of women’s dominating publishing and doing most of the work, they do not always have the top titles.
- Is there a journal article that you are most proud of?
Yes! My interview with Noam Chomsky stands out above all the rest. This shows how generous George Naifeh was to me. He knew that I was interested in Chomsky, who had been a charter subscriber to our journal. At any rate, I managed to get an interview with him. My boss let me fly up to Cambridge, the thrill of a lifetime. I took my copy of Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax for him to autograph. It’s an oddity for me to have been connected to him somehow in both of these fields [linguistics and Middle Eastern affairs].
- What is one word you would use to describe yourself?
Well—I would not have always said this, but I’ve come to believe that prickly might be a good one. Without that quality, I do not think I would be in this job after almost 40 years! Unless you’re stubborn and a little prickly you will cave in.
- Favorite culinary dish?
Yes, Fish Tacos from Virtue Feed and Grain in Old Town Alexandria. I recommend it to everyone reading this interview.
- Is there anything on your bookshelf that you would recommend to our readers?
These are sort of idiosyncratic choices, two books I really love that are old, but important. The first is The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. It was first published in 1961 when it won the National Book Award and remains in print. The other is Joan Didion’s novel Democracy, about the end of the Vietnam War. It’s really good, carried along by an oddball love story.
- Are there other women who inspire you?
Besides my aforementioned former colleague Anne Luppi, I’m not sure if I have other mentors in our field because women were so rare. But there’s a large group of women who have inspired me, including my friend Helena Cobban. She’s brilliant, fascinating, idiosyncratic, and someone who has inspired me over the years.
- Do you have a favorite travel destination in the Middle East?
I can’t choose just one place. Thanks to George Naifeh and George McGovern, I’ve been fortunate to visit all of the Arab countries except Libya, Algeria, and Yemen. My favorite cities are pre-2003 Baghdad and Jerusalem and Tunis. Baghdad was the first city that I visited in the Arab world. I was invited as part of a delegation of six American women from different fields for an international women’s conference.
- What advice would you give to women in foreign affairs?
This is really hard. Be stubborn, don’t give up. There are many people who might wish to elbow you aside. It’s a matter of luck and taking advantage of circumstances. The fact that our journal that was started from nothing and in just a few years’ time ranked high on the citation index continues to amaze me.
- What’s in store for Middle East Policy?
I’m so pleased that the journal has some permanence through publication with Wiley Blackwell. At the beginning, I was not sure that we would make it this far. But now, authors send us articles from all over the world and we are able to showcase their voices. I look forward to receiving more and more high-quality articles. For the journal to succeed, however, the Middle East Policy Council has to prosper, and our small but dedicated staff are working toward that goal.