Rebecca Solnit tells us about why she left The New York Times for The Atlantic

Rebecca Solnit had her work cut out for her when she started writing for The New York Times’s Section on Cities. She found that the ideas she grew up associating with being an insider…

Rebecca Solnit tells us about why she left The New York Times for The Atlantic

Rebecca Solnit had her work cut out for her when she started writing for The New York Times’s Section on Cities.

She found that the ideas she grew up associating with being an insider she found unwelcome. And it didn’t help that she had to get in and out of cities so often – usually at odd hours.

“This is how ‘outsider’ plays out – you have to ask yourself where you fit in,” she said.

Then this week, that changed: Solnit left The Times and took a job at The Atlantic, where she’ll be a writer-at-large for its City Lab.

It didn’t feel like an idle vacation.

Two years ago, Solnit sat down at CityLab’s New York City office for a conversation in which she recounted the title of her book, “A Field Guide to Getting Lost: Stories of Vision, Will and Courage.” Solnit describes her approach as wanting to “to be at the feet of the soles of the feet of the people who make cities the way they are.” She told the group how she arrived at that title, and how she’d discovered in her research that many cities avoid being cities at all costs.

You can watch the chat here. (Note: There’s a brief warning that suggests the following text contains material some readers may find disturbing or offensive. We don’t encourage you to click on the link, either. If it’s uncomfortable for you to watch, click here instead.)

Solnit’s exit from The Times in retrospect feels less like career “move,” and more like a sort of homecoming. She grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., and lived in the area for most of her life. After writing about her childhood for years in Esquire, she moved back to Brooklyn in 2014 – only to move back to New York later that year, and eventually end up in The Times.

Soon after her stint in New York, she left for a six-month stint to work on the climate summit for the UN. She worked on planning activities for the summit, such as mock summits, and helping to plan the locations of events that would take place onsite.

With her background in teaching and journalism, her work on UN climate summits and CityLab had made her ready for a change, she said. But she also felt that, for all that she’d been fortunate enough to do at The Times, writing about cities, especially cities that don’t meet her own brand of what makes them great, felt like something she could do without.

She called The Atlantic’s City Lab a “platform for the written word to thrive.”

“It really is a place where, I am privileged to say, many of my heroes get to come together to make new ideas or try to strengthen the ideas that they already have,” she said.

To learn more about how cities work, Solnit found herself asking more people the same question she’d asked for decades about themselves:

“Can you share with me something that you have found about the streets of New York that you find surprising?” she recalled thinking. “What something, another thing, is going on?”

She got lots of anecdotes that would inform a book.

Solnit was excited to leave her job at The Times. She had always dreamed of going to graduate school, she said. But it wasn’t easy.

She won a fellowship to go to Columbia Journalism School and starts work at The Atlantic on Jan. 18.

It wasn’t long, though, before she’d get another dose of New York inspiration. That’s when she heard from a long-time friend who lives in Midtown Manhattan. As Solnit told me, it’s pretty early to finish up the commute – maybe someone going to the beach might work better on a subway train.

“I was able to chase down that ride to Brooklyn, in 20 minutes,” she told me.

“Walk, catch a cab, walk, get home, drive myself to my apartment at the foot of Brooklyn Bridge,” she said of her final route. “Walk, try to end the day without a nibble from a city dweller.”

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