Around the Oxford square, over the mountains of Colorado and through the New York media maze, Claire Howorth has navigated her way to the top with the same energy, discipline and unflinching candor she brings to her work as a writer and editor. Her talent with words has earned her positions with various publications, from Vanity Fair to The Daily Beast to Harper’s Bazaar to Time magazine, where she is now.
Claire grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, which also was the site of her wedding last May. She lives in Brooklyn Heights with her husband, Mike Nizza, who is an editor at Esquire and a native New Yorker. Claire moved to New York City right after graduating from the University of Colorado with essentially nothing but some clothes and her best friends. She has been there ever since.
You grew up in the small town of Oxford, Mississippi. Do you still describe yourself as Southern?
Absolutely! I refuse to ever relinquish my Southernness, even if my accent isn’t as strong as it once was. (It comes back in direct proportion to how many cocktails I consume — the drunker, the stronger.) And I try to channel certain aspects of what I think of as “Southern” into my life. When I find myself operating at a frenetic pace, I turn the Oxford square into a metaphor — you can’t just drive in circles like a maniac, honking your horn and wheeling around madly; you have to take it slow and settle down, or you’re never going to get anywhere. I also am proud of being from Mississippi. Despite some of its incredible backasswardsness, it has given so much to American and global culture in terms of literature, music, the arts and far beyond.
What led you toward a writing and editing career?
I am sure my parents’ bookstore, Square Books, which they started in 1979, had something to do with it! I also had an excellent public school education, bottom to top (and owe particular thanks to my English teachers and my journalism teacher, Beth Fitts, at Oxford High School). When I got to New York, I knew my general direction would be media and publishing, but I was a little bit fuzzy on the specifics and how to go about doing what I wanted. Fortunately, my first boss, Judy Hottensen of Grove/Atlantic, took me under her wing. I learned a lot about book publishing from her, and she also introduced me to some writers who eventually connected me to Vanity Fair, where I started as an editorial assistant.
What subjects are you called on to write about or edit most often?
I write most frequently about culture (you can lump Jen Selter’s behind and the merkin into that broad category), and I edit a lot of different material, from political opinion pieces to fashion features. One of my personal favorites, though, was a recent profile of the artist Walton Ford for WSJ.Magazine. I felt so lucky to write for that publication and to interview such an intriguing person. I mean, check out his work and tell me it’s not just fantastic to look at!
How would someone describe your voice or style of writing?
It would be an honor if anyone identified my voice or style, because that means I am working consistently enough to have either. I personally think I tend to be a bit goofy, and I relish a good pun — sometimes to my own detriment, but often enough (I hope) to other people’s delight. (Again, I give you the merkin.)
Does your writing style change with the different publications you write for?
Definitely. Every publication has its own personality. The New York Post is splashy, with all the word play a girl could want, whereas WSJ., despite being owned by the same company, has a more reserved style. Of course, writers have their own voices, too, and as an editor you have to be careful not to squelch them while trying to serve the publication’s overarching mission.
Are there a few words of wisdom you can offer?
This is going to sound bleak, because it’s not exactly inspirational, but I tend to worry about everything a bit more than the average person. So “This, too, shall pass” is an important mantra to me. You know — tomorrow, next week, in a few months this will just be a memory.
What do you enjoy away from work?
In the past five or so years, I have become a total homebody. I really enjoy hanging around our apartment, tidying up and working on little projects around the house. I think you’d call me a putterer. I also love to go full-on couch potato — there’s so much great television now! Or I read.
Where do you like to escape for an occasional vacation?
I love South Beach. It’s a fairly quick, easy and inexpensive flight from NYC, so we try to go once a year in late winter for a hot snap. The people-watching is one of my favorite parts, second only to being a lazy beach bum. And a fellow Mississippian is the hospitality director at the Shore Club, where we usually stay. There’s a great Southern restaurant we always go to, Yardbird. (Footnote: I generally try not to eat Southern food wherever I go outside the South, because too many people are trying to capitalize on it and don’t do it well or right, but Yardbird is an exception. Footnote to the footnote: I don’t consider South Florida to be the South. The Panhandle, yes. I don’t think that’s a contentious view among Southerners, though!)
Do you have a few top spots to recommend in NYC?
I think tourists are riding the tidal wave of interest in Brooklyn. BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) puts on fantastic productions, and you have gorgeous Prospect Park. If you are interested in food and have the emotional fortitude to deal with getting a reservation — which takes at least a month — try Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, where I had one of the most memorable, enjoyable meals of my life. A few others dear to my stomach, off the top of my head: Rucola, Jack the Horse and La Vara.
What books have you enjoyed reading lately?
I just finished, for the third time, my mother Lisa Howorth’s book, Flying Shoes! I know I’m biased, but it’s a remarkable, poignant novel, and it’s still bitingly funny — like my mom. It’s based on the real-life story of her stepbrother’s murder. I’m so proud of her as a daughter, but I’m so impressed by her as a reader.
Name three lighthearted things could you not live without.
I honestly believe I could not function without coffee. That is not hyperbole. Beyond that, my little Tivoli radio for morning NPR, and — I’m so sad to say this, but my husband would say I’m dishonest if I don’t include it — my damn iPhone. Pitiful.
Is there a beauty product you can’t imagine not using?
I’m a recent convert to Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap and lotion, but I am always trying new bath products. I really don’t wear much makeup. On the occasions I use it at all, I stick to lipstick and sometimes mascara or eyeliner. But this summer I’ve been loving Clinique’s chubby stick intense in plushest punch. It lasts a half a day (any brand that claims full-day wear is full of it!), and it doesn’t crack even in summer’s broiling-outside, freezing-indoors climate.
Are there any must-have fashion items on your wish list?
If I could have Hatch’s capri jumpsuit in every single color of the rainbow, and maybe a few different fabrics, I’d be delighted. If you want to talk high end, and high, high hopes, and fall fashion, give me just one of Dior’s double-breasted coats off last week’s couture runway.
Thank you, Claire! We loved hearing your writer’s voice on StyleBlueprint today. Truly delightful! Read clips from Claire’s extensive body of work on Pinterest: pinterest.com/clairehoworth.
Photographer James Joiner took today’s wonderful photos of Claire in Central Park. His work has appeared in magazines such as Esquire, Paste, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and more. Enjoy more of James’ photography online, here: jjamesjoiner.com