Mattie Kahn

Mattie Kahn

Class of 2015, America Field
News writer, ELLE.com
Mattie Kahn

Thesis Title: "A Magazine of High Character": Failure, Foresight, and the Literary Project of Edgar Allan Poe

What Now: News Writer at ELLE.com, covering politics and pop-culture.  

Follow Me: @mattiekahn

No one needed to give me the hard sell. Pretty much as soon as I realized History and Literature was an option at Harvard, I knew I would concentrate in it. I've always loved reading and writing, always loved parsing the relationship between people, their context, and what they create. I was lucky to have teachers in school who esteemed that kind of work and who never dismissed it as "secondary" to "the text itself," whatever that means. 

So, I settled on studying America and became increasingly obsessed with the Supreme Court, obscenity trials, the vagaries of the publishing industry, and women who defied the odds. Which odds? Any odds! Who cares! Show me a woman who would not conform, and I am forever hers. 

In the end, it was Susan Sontag who did me in. Typical, I know. But she did! Her astute observations, which I'd glimpsed in previous classes but finally really read in a class on the developments of culture in postwar America, were the gateway drug. And then I found Pauline Kael and, that patron saint of History and Literature, Walter Benjamin. And eventually, I discovered Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Traister and Emily Nussbaum, and I realized somehow that this was a job, that writing about the world and observing the culture that it creates is a thing you can do. 

After graduation, I took a job at ELLE, where I write for the website about politics and pop-culture. Off the clock, I contribute to Lenny Letter, Cherry Bombe, the Gentlewoman, Into the Gloss, and Of a Kind. Over the past 12 months, I've covered primaries, conventions, and podcast festivals. I've interviewed senators and Jennifer Aniston. I recently published my first piece in the magazine, a collaborative effort between MacArthur-winning photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier and me. When I finally finished it, my editors asked me how I found the process. And I said, "It was hard. But my thesis was probably harder." 

I learned so much about how to look at the world and record it in my History and Literature classes. But maybe more than anything, my close-reading skills have come in handy as I try to make sense of Donald Trump's hair. So far, it has refused exegesis.