You work at the New York Times opinion section. Did you start your career in opinion or in reporting?
I had kind of a sideways entrance into journalism in the first place. I studied folklore mythology for my undergrad at Harvard and was introduced into techniques of ethnography and interviewing people through that practice but journalism wasn’t on my radar at all. I thought I wanted to be a poet. I loved words, language, and storytelling.
For my senior thesis I did a bike trip down 800 miles of the Mississippi River, starting in Memphis, Tennessee, and ending in Venice, Louisiana. I recorded stories of people I met along the way while wearing a cardboard sign around my neck that said, “open call for stories.” I fell in love with listening through that process. The further I traveled down the river, the more stories I heard about water and climate change, so I applied for a grant from Harvard about “purposeful wandering” after graduation and got it. I did a project that was supposed to be one year but ended up being almost 5 years where I was traveling on my bike, and not, and made interviews with about 850 people on six continents about water and climate change, and started freelancing along the way. At first it was mostly personal essays, but then I started dipping into other ways of storytelling in journalism and realized this is something I really wanted to do. I’m now under contract to write a book about this experience with Tiller Press at Simon & Schuster.
In 2018 I went and did a MA program at MIT in science writing and in June 2019 was fortunate to be chosen for this fellowship at the Times. There I edit op-eds, so it’s submissions from the general public or commissioning pieces about newsy topics or evergreen topics. The questions I’m always asking are what is the argument, how is this argument new, and how is this person the person to give voice to this particular argument. It’s journalism plus a bit. I’m working oftentimes with people who aren’t journalists or writers, so there’s a lot of hands on mentorship, coaching, etc, and I learn so much from working with different people. The core belief that unifies all my work is that everyone has a story to tell that’s valid, interesting, and important – it’s just a matter of finding the way to express it.
-As told to Catesby Holmes