84-year-old Lee Hunkins has been a talented, acclaimed, and highly engaged writer for her entire life, but she doesn’t believe you have to start young to realize your full creative potential. In fact, Lee credits her success with her lack of formal education in the field, freedom to be herself, and love of the people around her. “I come from a different perspective, and just write whatever I feel,” says the Harlem-born Beautiful Mind.
As a young person, Lee learned about imparting humor and lightness into her work, when her mother said her poetry was too dark for a happy person. She learned the format of writing stories by necessity when, in the 1960s, she entered a short story contest for the Pittsburgh Courier-- and won!
While Lee made her formal career with the Social Security Administration, she knew that her passion was for writing, and so she began to volunteer at a local theatre. She cleaned and ushered in exchange for tips on playwriting. Her plays often ran short, so she adapted her writing style to work for television, simply by reading a book on the subject.
Lee does not consider her writing career to have fully launched until she was almost 50, when her piece “Hollow Image” aired on ABC. While that may have been a late start by some standards, she’s had plenty of time to keep the ball rolling since. “If you really love what you’re doing and really have a passion for it, maintaining it isn’t hard. There should never be a doubt in your mind that it won’t work.”
Now, in addition to freelance writing, Lee volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association, attends painting classes, exercises regularly, and tries her hand at new endevors regularly. In fact, this weekend Lee will take her first class at Scratch DJ Academy to learn how to become a DJ. “I’ll probably be the oldest DJ in the world. Seniors are doing a lot of stuff, and I’m not doing it to get a job or publicity, it’s just a new challenge,” said Lee. But her biggest hobby, undoubtedly, is getting to know people. Lee says that having friends of many ages and backgrounds helps to keep her feeling young.
Lee credits the most valuable piece of advice she can give to her friend Charlotte, who shared it with her when she was in her 90’s. “The secret,” she says, “is to never stop being curious.” And Lee never has-- in her career, her hobbies, or her friendships.