Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Kathryn Schulz Visits Gunston

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Kathryn Schulz Visits Gunston

by Kelby Booth ’23

The Gunston School invited Kathryn Schulz, a memoirist and journalist, to campus in honor of the bi-annual tradition “In Celebration of Books.” 

Kate Larrimore, Kathryn Schulz and John Lewis

Kate Larrimore, Kathryn Schulz and John Lewis.

Although Kathryn Schulz is a staff writer for The New Yorker, a well respected magazine that features a wide range of literary and artistic expression, her presentation focused on the journey to her current position and the people that supported and inspired her along the way.

Ms. Schulz grew up in Ohio in a house that explored and experimented with language. Her mother was a French teacher and was very precise in the way she spoke. She constantly corrected Ms. Schulz and her sister on their grammar, placing her into the role of the “grammar police.” On the other hand, Ms. Schulz mentioned her father saw “language as a playground” where one is constantly learning new language and learning how to manipulate words to form unpredictable sentences. 

Ms. Schulz recalled how it was her sister who suggested that she take a teaching job in Costa Rica, which subsequently led to Ms. Schulz relocating to Santiago, Chile in order to work for The Santiago Times as an editor and reporter. Unfortunately, she found this job to be more of a translation position rather than original reporting. Her time at The Santiago Times was less than satisfactory as she found herself bored and not challenged. Then an opportunity struck. 

Ms. Schulz learned that Augusto Pinchet, the dictator of Chile from 1974-1990, was throwing an 85th birthday party. She called some sources and secured herself a press ticket. The next move she took was a leap of faith. Ms. Schulz drafted an email to The New York Times in hopes that they would accept her article pitch about Austugto’s party. After a few days, an editor wrote back and she was assigned a 700-word article.

A year after the article was published, Ms. Schulz moved to New York to work for Gist, an environmental magazine. She regularly attended book parties that hosted all types of editors, reporters, and fact checkers. During one of these book parties, she was approached by David Remnick, who had read some of her work and complimented her style of writing. She later walked out of the book party with a new job. 

Today, Ms. Schulz has been a staff writer for The New Yorker for eight years, has written two books, and has won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

Not only is she successful in her field of work, she is also very passionate. When asked why she loves writing, she explained that “the world is very large and fascinating.” Writing gives her the chance to learn something new every day. She takes her curiosity of the world and puts it into her writing. This curiosity led Ms. Schulz to write about a large variety of topics, including stink bugs, tsunamis, and politics.  

During a discussion with students, Ms. Schulz was asked “when it comes to writing, is there anything you’re afraid of?” She hesitated as she went through her rolodex of fears. She mentioned that structuring her novels and articles can be difficult, but nothing to be afraid of. She paused as a new thought came to mind, “getting it wrong.” She knows she excels at writing, but a big part of journalism specifically focuses on being accurate. She adds that it is important to “be aware that you are telling someone else's story.”  Journalism is about a human connection, and as a journalist you never want to take advantage of the trust someone has in you. 

The most important piece of advice Ms. Schulz left with us was “don’t make fun of someone for doing something they love.” It takes most people a long time to find something they are passionate about, and some people never find it. Passion is what evokes change, and the world is in constant need of change. 

Thank you Ms. Schulz for sharing your journey of learning and passion. Gunston is extremely grateful to learn from your experiences. 

Also, thank you to Ms. Kate Larrimore for coordinating the day of celebration!    

At Gunston, we believe in the transformative power of language and the study of writing as craft. The In Celebration of Books program is one way that we instill these values in students. Each year, we invite writers of local, regional, and national prominence to campus. Consistent with our mission of educating “ethically and environmentally minded scholars, citizens, and leaders for our globalized society,” the program features authors from all fields and disciplines. In addition to a public reading or talk, each guest also visits the classroom, where students have the unique opportunity to interact with them in a highly-personalized environment.