Choire Sicha is a very special human being. Just look at these Twitter mentions congratulating him on his new role as editor of The New York Times Styles section. It’s a trip through the past 20 years of New York media featuring an all-star cast of writers, many of whom he helped shepherd to fame (or at least a steady job).
Choire makes people feel good about themselves and their work, and this of course is what makes an editor truly great. Like any other nobody with a blog, I have my own Choire story: I started Longreads shortly after he and Alex Balk started The Awl, and he was supportive and encouraging from the start. (He also condemned me for not having Renata Adler anywhere on the site yet.) Great editors will save you from future embarrassment.
And now he’s going to the Times Styles section. (“A role he was born to play!” as my colleague Michelle Legro noted in Slack.) In honor of the occasion, here are a few Choire-written or Choire-inspired stories from over the years. Start with our entire Awl archive and work your way down:
Every story Longreads has ever recommended from the Awl, co-founded by Choire in 2009, which is the same year he chronicles in his book Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City.
Sicha’s much-lauded profile of the Barefoot Contessa:
That first cookbook has a foreword from Martha Stewart; Ina had a column in her magazine after the book did gangbusters. It reads straightforwardly as an endorsement — and yet, when you look at the actual words, they assemble themselves, as so much does in Martha’s world, into some kind of menace, an alpha act of undermining. Martha writes: “It took a while, but I finally understood what motivated Ina, realizing that here was a true kindred spirit with really similar but unique talents.” Exactly how long did it take, Martha?
Martha can’t help herself. In a video segment describing Ina’s Barefoot Contessa store, Martha intones: “But this feast for the senses was created not by a gourmand, but by a desk-bound bureaucrat who wanted a change.” Oh Martha!
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing being insignificant. My best work is ephemeral, and was published on websites that don’t exist any more. The only good things I’ve written this year were things that I wrote for readings, and I haven’t published any of them. I suppose we could quantify significance online in a lot of ways but it seems like a lot of publishers are publishing not “best ofs” this end of year but are publishing “most-reads” which is sort of ultra-sads, right? How else has writing ever been assessed though? If it makes money it must be important. Or better yet, if it didn’t make money at first, but THEN made money much later, it’s both cool and re-cool.
I guess I think that writing becomes significant through labor. The cherished things online, whether they be profitable or not, clearly spring from a place of great effort, even if in the end that effort is, as it usually should be, invisible.
An editor at Gawker, then the New York Observer, then Gawker again, then Radar, and then his own site, The Awl, which he co-founded with Alex Balk in 2009, Sicha has spent the past decade developing what has become the lingua franca of the Internet: un-snobbish endorsements, presented in a candid, self-consciously hysterical tone. (A recent tweet: “Vicious news cycle today! Like many others, I just got bumped by Weiner.”) His humorously helpful parentheticals, doubt-inducing scare quotes, casual “like”s dropped carefully amidst otherwise competent sentences, and gratuitous exclamation points litter the online landscape. When typed by Sicha, though, these superficial markers of style—so easy to replicate!—communicate a set of core values that he’s carried with him from job to job: genuine egalitarianism, acrobatic diplomacy, unregulated intimacy.
Sicha likes Ursula K. Le Guin, cigarettes, and cats. He dislikes careerism and pokes fun at whatever it is other bloggers are myopically obsessed with on a given day.
SICHA: One day I’d told a friend that I’d written you a letter, and she said, “I just wrote her a letter too!” And we were both so happy. We expected nothing of it, of course, and I realized, thinking about that, well, it must be frightening at the other end.
LE GUIN: Well, it’s a lot less than it was, since more people simply don’t communicate on paper. The number goes down steadily. I’m kind of touched when people go through the trouble of writing me a letter instead of e-mailing me. I’d actually rather do e-mail. It’s a lot physically easier. You know, I’m 85—I look for shortcuts. But the paper mail from kids is so great. I do try to answer that. I can’t keep up with it, the lovely letters people write me. But I do try to answer the kids. I really do. They’re so insolent sometimes.
SICHA: They’re saucy?
LE GUIN: Well, they tell me how I should have finished the books or what the next Catwings book ought to be or something like that. They have no inhibitions. It’s cool. If I got that from a grown-up, I wouldn’t think it was so cool. I’d say, “Write your own book!” But somebody 8 years old, they identify so passionately with what they read. You can tell. They really are into it.