Kari Howard was a storytelling editor who championed the kind of writing that concerns itself with small moments: Of resiliency, dignity, absurdity, gut-busting humor or heartbreak. The kind that makes you feel as though you just met someone – that a life outside your own is real.
She was a sucker for a love story. She loved writing that captured place, that made the natural world sing and flutter and crunch, or a city street throb and smell of ramen noodles.
To writers, she gave kindness, enthusiasm and clarity. She created a space where they could take approaches that might not work, ask the same question of the same person just one more time, or play with structure.
In editing notes, she flagged lines that made her cry (she was known to simply type “sob!”). To write something that elicited Kari’s rat-a-tat laugh was for many the loftiest writing goal.
When Kari edited, there were discussions about whether the beat of a sentence should be da-DA-da or da-da-DA. She was passionate about music and concerned with the rhythm and musicality of prose. Her newsletters for the Nieman Storyboard highlighted fine writing. She invariably paired her reading recommendations with a piece of music the way someone else might choose the perfect wine to match a fine meal.
Discussions about stories were wide-ranging, warm and seemingly without goal — she believed that the alchemy of things off-handedly said revealed something important to the work.
But Kari also understood the needs of a news organization. She combined her sense of whimsy with an iron will and negotiating skills that made her a formidable defender of narrative journalists and their stories.
Losing Kari devastated a community of journalists on personal levels. It also left a distinct approach to storytelling, one that often seems like a luxury today, without one of its most capable champions.
In fact, what’s at stake is vital: true and timely stories of everyday life and everyday lives caught in extraordinary moments.
Kari believed that narrative journalism combined the best nuance and poetry of fiction with journalism’s strongest power: It’s true.
Kari’s mother Diane Howard, her sister Alison Howard, friends and colleagues from the Los Angeles Times and Reuters News are determined that such journalism should live on. To that end, the Kari Howard Fund for Narrative Journalism will award annual grants in support of proposals to report and publish compelling human stories, wherever they are found.