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An Interview with Thessaly La Force


I discovered Thessaly La Force through her work for T Magazine. I fell in love with her writing first-- for a while, I actually didn't even realize that she was also the features director at T Magazine. Of course, when it finally dawned on me, I respected her all the more. As an aspiring arts and culture journalist, she's a huge inspiration to me.


Through her writing, I was introduced to Walter Van Beirendonck, Nan Goldin, and Maruja Mallo, and I will always be grateful for the accessible yet insightful manner in which she approaches the topics she writes about. Even when she's covering something/someone that I'm already familiar with, Thessaly always exposes an unexplored side of it, like how Parasite relates to Confucianism, or Bill Cunningham's career as a hat maker. I also devoured her articles for Vogue; I found comfort in her meditation on break ups and Bonsai trees, and remembered the legacy of Nadine Gordimer through her words. Her work for The New Yorker is equally as brilliant--- I particularly loved her article on Iowa's Underground Railroad.


Her work is professional and polished, her style is both distinctive and tailored to the publication she's writing for, but it always seems human and her connection to her subject matter comes through beautifully in her writing, which is what I admire most. She's a keen observer of the world, yet she also recognizes that she's a part of it, which makes her insights a pleasure to read.


Who are your inspirations?

I admire people who have defined the profession of writing and editing magazines as a kind of craft. I also admire people who are both writers and editors. There is some idea out there that you can't do both, and I don't think that's true. It's really difficult. Writing is an inherently antisocial profession. But it's possible. So, I guess I'd name people like my own boss Hanya Yanagihara or David Remnick.


What's the most challenging part of your job?

We are perfectionists. When something goes wrong, I am the hardest on myself.


What's the most rewarding?

We get to conceive of stories in a totally original, creative way. And I love the writers I work with; I have deep and sustaining friendships with them all. We respect each other, and trust each other. And we can spend time really developing a story. Editing someone (or in my case, too, being edited by someone) can be a really intimate and rewarding way of getting to know someone else's mind and personality.


What do you think is the most important skill for a young journalist to develop?

I think one should learn early on how to ask for help, and to listen. And be meticulous with your facts! There's so much room for error, especially online, but you build your career by being reliable and trustworthy. It's a boring answer! But maybe also I'd add that kind of journalism I'm in, which is more arts and culture, is also about being part of a world--so go to the museum as much as you can, go to gallery openings, meet artists and designers, and visit their studios, etc. You have to actually look at the work. Pay attention to the people.


What advice would you give your younger self?

I wish I had learned sooner to call myself a writer. I was so afraid to call myself that. And it confused people who were trying to help me. I didn't have the confidence. I wanted to please everyone.


How would you define style?

Style is like the notion of "good taste"—most of it is an attempt to fit in.


What's a story from your childhood that really describes your personality?

My parents used to drop me off at the library and I would sit in a corner and read books all afternoon. I was that kid who brought a book to anything--birthday parties, school trips, a hike --because I loved to read. Reading is what made me want to write. Sometimes I miss how much I loved it, how much a good novel could sustain an entire world for me.