blue·stock·ing noun \-ˌstä-kiŋ\
: an educated woman who is interested in books and ideas
(and would rather let you read what others say about her)
Susan Zakin is one of the best environmental journalists I know. She has built her career on excellent writing, superior story telling and a relentless commitment to getting the truth. I know her best for her work here in the American West where her stories about the desert southwest captured its beauty and the pathos of its changes.
Coyotes and Town Dogs was a landmark in environmental journalism, but it was also a fun read that rivaled Edward Abbey’s The Monkeywrench Gang. At a time when most reporters were shackled by the threat someone might think they cared, Zakin showed her readers why they should care. She helped them get angry. She made them laugh.
Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, author Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America
Susan Zakin is responsible for three books that sit prominently on my office shelf. One is Coyotes and Town Dogs: Earth First! and the Environmental Movement, a work that I consider part of the canon of American history because of the way Zakin places the U.S. conservation movement within the context of larger ideas. The second is an anthology of experimental writing on the environment called Naked: Uncovering the Way We Live on Earth, with many distinguished contributors as well as provocative emerging writers. Her most recent book, In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, is a case study of a tragedy that shows Zakin’s ability to make sense of the fraught, intimate, and inescapable relationship between nature and humanity.
But a while back, Susan started writing fiction, smart work informed by her experience in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve read excerpts from her novel, The Afterlife of Victor Kamara, which deals expertly with the very contemporary issue of identity in a globalizing world. The passages I’ve read have that utter conviction of place that only authors like Graham Greene can pull off.
David Galef, director, creative writing, Montclair State University
New in 2017: A collection of Africa writing
"...in the tone and style of the best work of the great travel writers, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux and Eric Newby's "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush," only the focus is Africa, which it captures with brilliant insight."
William Thatcher Dowell
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Writing has appeared in Vogue, Salon, Sierra, High Country News, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, Field and Stream, and Orion. Some relevant gigs listed below.
Mentor 2011 - present
Work with writers on their manuscripts, combining teaching and editing. I also work as an independent editor on fiction, nonfiction, and literary journalism. Got a project?
Suffolk University Dakar Campus
Visiting Assistant Professor 2009
Taught writing and literature to a pan-African student population at the Dakar, Senegal campus of a U.S. university. The majority of students were non-native English speakers, so I relied on visual narrative and rhetorical analysis to engage them with classic texts such as The Great Gatsby.
New Times/Village Voice Media
Contributing Writer 2002 - 2008
As the LA Weekly's environmental writer, I came along at a time when real estate development threatened the region's last privately owned wild areas. Many of my stories dealt with urban sprawl, endangered species, and environmental politics, but I also ranged farther afield, writing about literary figures such as Graham Greene and Luis Urrea, African politics and music, Hurricane Katrina, and the death of free form radio.
Writers on the Range, The Tucson Weekly
Wrote 800-word op-eds and columns syndicated by High Country News to more than 70 newspapers. Award-winning syndicated column for The Tucson Weekly took on the West's sacred cows: real estate development and, uh, cows.
International Center for Journalists
Sen. John Heinz Fellow in Environmental Reporting 2001
When I spent three months in Madagascar as the Sen. John Heinz Fellow in Environmental Reporting, I approached the job of training reporters as a cultural exchange: I set up workshops on conservation biology, but I also attended field trips on air pollution organized by the national journalists' association. I have written about Madagascar for The Christian Science Monitor and other publications.
Media Strategist 1998-2000
Evangelist and strategist for Tech Rocks, the first Internet guru to the environmental movement. Consulted on projects ranging from multi-million-dollar web portals to outreach for grassroots groups, and I branched out from content strategy to business, coming up with revenue models based on strategic partnerships. The Atlantic Monthly's online channels use models I pioneered.
Sports Afield magazine
Contributing Editor 1993-1995
As Washington, D.C. columnist for this 500,000-circulation National Magazine Award winning outdoor publication, I covered the 1992 presidential campaign and the 1994 midterm elections, writing about campaign finance and the role of lobbyists. In addition to extensive coverage of the Clinton administration's environmental policies. I covered international issues and science.
The New London Day
Sunday Edition Reporter
In-depth news features and enterprise stories for this respected New England daily's Sunday Perspective section. Stories included profile of serial killer, worker buyout of manufacturing plant, artificial intelligence research at Yale, suicide among children and teenagers, and investigative stories, including one that uncovered Colt Industries' responsibility for toxic dumping outside Hartford, CT.
The Modern Safari
At a time when the island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, had poor Internet access, I set up a web portal connecting Swahili tour operators and hotel owners to the global market. Now I run Cowgirls & Pirates, bringing travelers to places where conservationists are working with communities in Africa. (Oh, yeah. We sell purses, too. We just felt like it.)
Susan is a world-class reporter, writer and editor whom I was privileged to edit during my tenure as deputy editor of the LA Weekly. Susan is smart, curious, passionate and a great collaborator. She is the epitome of a journalist -- a seeker of truth who cuts no corners and tells stories an engaging, creative, lively fashion that makes readers want to follow where she is taking us.
Susan is also the editor of an environmental writing anthology to which I contributed. I found her editing to be considerate, creative and highly intelligent.
Whether it's deeply reported narratives from trouble spots in Africa, or environmental issues in the Southwest or politics nationally, Susan is one of the voices we remember and respect.
Joe Donnelly, LA Weekly, Slake, Mission and State, journalism professor Whittier College
Rather than getting into the whole Amazon v. The World debate, you decide where to buy them.
Coyotes and Town Dogs: Earth First! and the Environmental Movement
Susan Zakin's writing is brilliant and irreverent, tough and funny, opinionated and sometimes outrageous. But this is also a serious work, the most thorough and thoughtful survey of the American environmental movement I have seen.
—Brad Knickerbocker, The Christian Science Monitor
Naked: Writers Uncover the Way We Live on Earth
Through fiction, narrative nonfiction, and memoir, this edgy anthology could have been titled "The New Environmental Writing" as Tom Wolfe once dubbed an anthology "New Journalism."
Accomplished writers selected include Zakin herself, who deals with the desert, divorce and more in "Tierra Incognita"; Edward Abbey, whose unpublished letters are annotated by Zakin; and Elizabeth Royte, who spent part of a pregnancy in the wilds of Panama.
In Katrina's Wake: Portraits of Loss From An Unnatural Disaster
In "A Fallen Corner of the World" Zakin shuffles together a psychological anatomy lesson on New Orleans and an elegy for it —a clever, intuitive meditation that should be required reading on these subjects.
—Allen Williams, The Simon
As editor of the anthology, "Naked", Zakin worked with a variety of talent that ranged from T. C. Boyle to Carl Hiaasen. Zakin was impressive in her ability to walk the author through a series of line edits that would improve the story and do so without causing the writer to run screaming from the building in despair.
Jack Hitt, contributor This American Life, author of The Way and Bunch of Amateurs, former editor Harper's
Zakin’s fiction demonstrates the same gifts so evident in her non-fiction: strong storytelling, multidimensional characterization, and lyrical description. Her first novel is an ambitious work showing the collapse of civil society in a West African country. I cannot overstate how much I admire it. I expect the book to win Zakin great distinction.
Elizabeth Evans, novelist, author of Carter Clay, and As Good As Dead, forthcoming from Bloomsbury
I write articles. Long form policy analysis combined with narrative, usually on Africa. Essay mashups of politics and culture and sometimes a soupçon of the personal. Q and A is the most fun, and, don't let anyone pretend otherwise, the least work. (The interview with T.C. Boyle at Chateau Marmont was a good one.) Eventually you figure out how to do it all.
The MFA helped more than journalism school.
Confused about what it means to be a "media strategist"? Usually it's someone who doesn't know much about media or strategy.
When I worked for Tech Rocks, the digital evangelist to non-profits, the online world was still creating itself. We learned a lot about social media, the value of content curation, and revenue models. Most media strategy is logic, with the creativity to put the Legos together in a new way. The tough part is moving entrenched corporate cultures. (We figured some of that out, too.)
University of Arizona
Paradise. Studied fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in a creative writing program justly known for the teaching of craft. Taught fiction and nonfiction creative writing workshops, as well as basic writing.
Edward Abbey taught here, too, but long before I was around.
(The photo is by my friend Terrence Moore.)
Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
I learned about the Federal Register and read Armies of the Night.
B.A. English and History, cum laude but not sum
Eminent Victorians, mostly. Edmund Gosse's father makes a cameo appearance in The Afterlife of Victor Kamara.
The Brearley School
Girls' school in New York
This is where juvenile delinquents are magically transformed into bluestockings (in my case). A painful process.