Mar 13, 2017
Brooklyn 100 Influencer: Wesley Morris, The New York Times
After a long run—and a Pulitzer Prize win—with The Boston Globe, and a four-year stint working for Bill Simmons at Grantland (RIP), Wesley Morris made the jump in 2015 to The New York Times, leaving full-time film criticism in the dust. As a critic-at-large for the Times, Morris weighs in on anything from the Art, Music, and Television worlds, with anything in-between fair game as well (film, of course, remains mixed in). Last year, Morris began hosting a new podcast, Still Processing, alongside fellow Times writer Jenna Wortham, where the two tackle a wide range of cultural discourse—whether art, pop culture, or politics—on a week to week basis. Morris has long been one of the country’s defining critical voices, and that hasn’t changed as he’s made his way through the Times newsroom.
Your writing has been so consistently great throughout the years, from your work with The Boston Globe, to Grantland, and now with The New York Times. Now with the Times for over a year, what’s been the biggest change?
Thanks for saying that. I don’t think there’s really been a huge change being at the paper versus my other jobs—aside from the fact that I’m writing about all culture instead of primarily about movies. I do think that the title “krittiq at large” does imply a wisdom I don’t necessarily believe I have. I just like experiencing a lot of things in writing about them. And I’ve always been able to make connections among a lot of different things at the Globe and at Grantland. Now it’s just explicitly part of my job description.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliff’s Notes version of what your days have been like lately.
That hasn’t changed that much, either. I wake up pretty early. I do some stretches. Or use one of those foam rollers. Then I read for about 90 minutes to two hours. Then I go to my desk and, depending on what day of the week it is, I’ll start writing. And depending on when I’m writing, when 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock comes. I’ve turned a story in. Or I spend all week and maybe the week after that working on one story. I do have to say I love that about my job, because I’m split between the magazine and the culture department, I get to write fast and write long and slow. And then I get to do Still Processing with my friend Jenna Wortham. So some days of the week are really, really good. Believe it or not, that might be a Cliff’s Notes version.
What’s been the most fulfilling part about writing for the Times and recording Still Processing?
Well, the most fulfilling part about the podcast is that I get to work with Jenna and and the folks who put the show together at Pineapple Street Media. We all really love each other and can be honest with each other and work hard to produce a fun show every week. And they’re really smart about what a good podcast is. And Jenna is brilliant in general, but especially about the kinds of questions we should ask each other and how to frame a conversation. And at the paper it’s just all the wonderful people you get to collaborate with and talk to and see do their jobs. Every once in a while, I have a moment where I stop, and I look around that handsome-ass building and I say, “I work here. How about that.” I felt that way, too, about the Globe and my beloved Grantland and The San Francisco Examiner, which was my first adult newspaper gig. I hope I always have that feeling.
What is your proudest achievement so far, and what’s been your greatest challenge?
My proudest achievement? I think it’s being a part of what I think is going to be a really good podcast. I mean, it’s good now. But there’s a lot of stuff that Jenna and I and Pineapple are looking forward to doing in the next year that should be really fun and interesting and surprising. We love our show and we’re honored that other people seem to like it, too. And typing-wise, it’s been learning how to structure magazine length stories. I’m not the greatest structural writer. But it’s been fun learning how to really think about structure as I’m writing. I get a lot of pleasure out of the thinking part and now I’m learning to love organizing all of those thoughts into something more coherent *before* I give it to an editor. I wrote a story about black men, sexuality, and popular culture that ran in the fall. And it was incredibly satisfying landing on a structure that made perfect sense for the piece.
Is there any subject for your writing, or a guest or topic for the podcast, that you haven’t been able to tackle yet, but would like to in the future?
Not really. There just have to be more hours in the day to get to everything that I want to do.
Quick! Top of your head, what have been your favorite pieces of culture in the past year (or so)?
I’ll just pick one. And it was probably Taylor Mac performing “24 Decade Song Cycle” at Saint Ann’s Warehouse last October. It started at noon on Saturday and ended around noon on Sunday. We were all exhausted and yet exhilarated. That was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my life. Taylor Mac is amazing, he is surrounded by amazing people, and he has amazing ideas about American culture in relation to American politics. It was right up my alley, and yet something that almost nobody would’ve thought to come up with. I also don’t like being involved in people’s art. I feel like I’m going to have this experience and you’re supposed to do everything, and I’m supposed to watch. But I was so mesmerized by what was going on that night—mesmerized by the energy in the room—that I didn’t mind helping, among other things, carry an effigy of Judy Garland’s corpse around that space. I think we all felt a moral duty to help keep that show as great as he had envisioned it being.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?
That there continues to be a place for smart people to write emotionally and personally and originally about culture.
Who else would you nominate for this list?
Eric Hynes at Museum of the Moving Image
Nick Kulish, Who writes about foreign affairs and now immigration at the New York Times
Leon Neyfakh, who writes about legal affairs at Slate
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.
Photo by Jane Bruce
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