Author and Journalist

About

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I'm a writer, editor, and researcher who has reported from North and South America, Europe, the Caribbean, and West Africa covering culture, politics, history, and identity. I've written thousands of stories, ranging from the fight to preserve world heritage in Palmyra, Syria, to the story of the first American dictionary. My book Americanon is about how seemingly innocuous bestselling books have served quietly as blueprints for "the good American," molding our common language, culture, and customs. It was published by Dutton (Penguin-Random House) June 1, 2021.

My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington PostThe Nation, The Paris Review Daily, TIME.com, The Guardian, New York Magazine's The Cut, The New Republic, Fortune, Village VoiceInternational Business Times, CNN, Avidly (Los Angeles Review of Books), AFP Services, The Believer, Lapham's Quarterly, Teen Vogue, Business Insider, InStyle, DAME, Thrillist, Man Repeller, and Travel + Leisure, among others. I used to be a staff reporter at Time Inc. and International Business Times.

I studied 19th century poetry at Yale (among other fascinating and profoundly impractical things). Since then I've interviewed U.N. diplomats, U.S. senators, former members of the Irish Republican Army, and the errant amateur witch. I covered the 2015 Paris attacks on the ground, meeting musicians, refugees, and other Parisians working toward the city's recovery.

I'm bilingual in French, and you can find me between New York City and Paris.

Anna Sproul-Latimer at Neon represents me.

Portrait by Mariah Tyler.

Highlights

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Our Best Sellers, Ourselves

What can the most popular books throughout American history reveal about the national character?

Related image Why We Turn to the Word 'Surreal' Whenever Something Terrible Happens, June 2021

The dictionary offers its readers clarity, especially when grappling with events that feel inconceivable. Whether in the form of violence or disease, trauma can upend our understanding of life.

What It Was Like to Be an LGBTQ Activist Before Stonewall, June 2019

 “It was assumed we were mentally ill; it was considered that we were certainly criminals, and we     were also considered to be morally depraved. But people would still sit and listen to you, and that’s the beginning of a conversation.”

 How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their own lives, March 2021

 Women’s chief role in founding the modern book club — a consequence of being   marginalized from other intellectual spaces — has gone on to shape the book landscape   in profound and unappreciated ways.

"Denied a teaching job for being ‘too Black,’ she started her own school —and a movement"

Nannie Helen Burroughs decided that if she could not get a job as a teacher, she would   start her own school. And that school was only the beginning of a long and illustrious   career as an educator, orator, businesswoman, religious leader and activist.

Image illustrative de l’article The Guardian

 

 

  "Trust Your Dog"

 After grueling training, a rare few civilians and their dogs are allowed to participate in criminal   investigations by searching for cadavers.

 

Image result for the paris review logo

   The Nationalist Roots of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary  

 Nearly two centuries later, at a time when truth is increasingly undervalued and American exceptionalism is widely embraced, the dictionary takes on fresh significance.

 
 
 

Writing (By Outlet)

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 How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their   own lives, March 2021

 Denied a teaching job for being ‘too Black,’ she started her own   school —and a movement, February 2021

 He fought for Black voting rights after the Civil War. He was almost killed for it, October 2020

The man who taught millions of Americans to read before being forgotten, May 2021

A Puritan Minister Incited Fury by Pushing Inoculation, March 2020

 Why Aren't Women in the U.S. Also Protesting Against Femicide?, March 2020

https://jobs.theguardian.com/getasset/14928961-45c2-4f50-9d05-c150248727e7/;w=600;h=315Trust Your Dog: extraordinary pets help solve crime by finding bodies, February 2020

 The Polanski protests have brought France’s #MeToo reckoning a step closer, March 2020

Related image Why We Turn to the Word 'Surreal' Whenever Something Terrible Happens, June 2021

What It Was Like to Be an LGBTQ Activist Before Stonewall, June 2019

 

Image result for the paris review logoThe Nationalist Roots of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, March 2018

 

The French Plan to Fix Inequality — By Ignoring It, September 2018

 
Fortune Logo Redesign: Why We Did It | Fortune
 

Why Is Arkansas Rushing to Execute Its Prisoners? April 2017

 

 

 Old Paris Is No More, July 2019 

                               A Flower for Your Thoughts, January 2019

Image result for avidly LARB

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 A Drive Through the Scottish Highlands, April 2018

Inside the Fight to Keep Liverpool's Punk Scene Alive, January 2018

Palmyra: How a Beloved World Heritage Site Became a Battlefield, February 2017

Explore the Magical Ephemera of New York City's Biggest Prop House, February 2017

A Brief History of the Modern Suitcase, December 2016

Winemakers in Bordeaux Are Reinvigorating Their Traditional Terroir, November 2016

 

Refugee Women Are Carrying More Than An Uncertain Future, April 2016

What A Breakdown Of Free Travel Means For Europe's Economy, March 2016

French Anti-Radicalization Policy Questioned, January 2016

Beer, Wine, And Other Acts Of French Defiance, November 2015

One Syrian's Journey From Aleppo To Paris, November 2015

The Remaking Of Sinn Fein In Northern IrelandOctober 2015

See Jess' full archive from IBT here: http://www.ibtimes.com/reporters/jess-mchugh​

 

The Story Behind the Most Colorful Building in NYC, September 2016

 

Dole Back On Hill to Try and Push Through U.N. Disability Rights Treaty, July 2014

Perry to Texas Reps: Don't Approve Obama Border Proposal, July 2014

 

The Most Dangerous Moves From the Least Dangerous Game, October 2013

 

Writing (By Topic)

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History

"Our Best Sellers, Ourselves," The New York Times

"Why We Turn to the Word 'Surreal' Whenever Something Terrible Happens," TIME

"How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their own lives," The Washington Post

Denied a teaching job for being ‘too Black,’ she started her own school —and a movement, The Washington Post

He fought for Black voting rights after the Civil War. He was almost killed for it, The Washington Post

The Nationalist Roots of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, The Paris Review

Old Paris Is No More, Lapham's Quarterly

The man who taught millions of Americans to read before being forgotten,Washington Post

A Puritan Minister Incited Fury by Pushing InoculationWashington Post

A Flower for Your ThoughtsLapham's Quarterly

How Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Defined American Cultural Beliefs, Bookforum

The U.S. Census Has a Long History of DiscriminationFortune

Culture

Trust Your Dog: extraordinary pets help solve crime by finding bodies, The Guardian

How to Eat Alone (And Like It)The New York Times

How a Single Cookbook Shaped What It Meant to Be an “American Woman,” Lit Hub

Meet the Woman Who Designed These Modern ClassicsCitylab

Yoga Mats in the Squad Room, Pacific Standard

The Story Behind the Most Colorful Building in NYC, Village Voice

The Most Dangerous Moves From the Least Dangerous Game, The Believer

European Affairs

How 343 Women Made French HistoryTIME

After a Violent Yellow Vest Anniversary, What's Next?  Fortune

Why France Is Losing the War on Anti-Semitism, The New Republic

The French Plan to Fix Inequality — By Ignoring ItThe New Republic

Refugee Women Are Carrying More Than An Uncertain FutureInternational Business Times

What A Breakdown Of Free Travel Means For Europe's EconomyInternational Business Times

Beer, Wine, And Other Acts Of French DefianceInternational Business Times

One Syrian's Journey From Aleppo To ParisInternational Business Times

The Remaking Of Sinn Fein In Northern IrelandInternational Business Times

See Jess' full archive from IBT here: http://www.ibtimes.com/reporters/jess-mchugh​

Women and Identity

Why Aren't Women in the U.S. Also Protesting Against Femicide? Washington Post

An Online Tool to Catch Workplace Sexual PredatorsThe Wall Street Journal

More Companies Are Openly Supporting Abortion Rights. That May Be Controversial, But It’s Also Good BusinessFortune

As abortion restrictions increase, these 10 states are seeking a new route to accessWashington Post's The Lily

Her rape kit sat untested for over 20 years. She’s fighting to make sure that stops happeningWashington Post's The LIly

The Complicated Psychology Behind Bee-Stung Lips, New York Magazine (The Cut)

Surviving Summer TV: Gendered Depictions of PTSD, Avidly (Los Angeles Review of Books)

Policing Language Is Just Another Way to Silence Women, DAME Magazine

What Happens When Women Don't Smile, DAME Magazine

Travel

Finding Open-Minded Health Care Abroad, The New York Times

 Tips for  L.G.B.T.Q. Travelers to Visit the World Safely, The New York Times

A Drive Through the Scottish Highlands, Travel + Leisure

Inside the Fight to Keep Liverpool's Punk Scene Alive, Travel + Leisure

Palmyra: How a Beloved World Heritage Site Became a Battlefield, Travel + Leisure

Explore the Magical Ephemera of New York City's Biggest Prop House,Travel + Leisure

A Brief History of the Modern Suitcase, Travel + Leisure

Winemakers in Bordeaux Are Reinvigorating Their Traditional Terroir, Travel + Leisure

U.S. News and Politics

Migrants, Refugees, Are the Human Cost of Coronavirus, Experts SayFortune

Why Is Arkansas Rushing to Execute Its Prisoners? The Nation

Dole Back On Hill to Try and Push Through U.N. Disability Rights Treaty, CNN

Perry to Texas Reps: Don't Approve Obama Border Proposal, CNN

New Security Measures Could Delay You At the Airport. Here's What to ExpectTIME

Here's How Hotel Security Could Change After the Las Vegas MassacreTravel + Leisure

AMERICANON

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Americanon by Jess McHugh

Overlooked for centuries, our simple dictionaries, spellers, almanacs, and how-to manuals are the unexamined touchstones for American cultures and customs. 

These books sold tens of millions of copies and set out specific archetypes for the ideal American, from the self-made entrepreneur to the humble farmer.

Click here to purchase

Praise for Americanon:

“In an increasingly divided nation, it seems reasonable to ask: What is the glue that holds us together?  It may be found here, in these bound pages.  Jess McHugh has written an elegant, meticulously-researched and eminently readable history of the books that define us as Americans.  For history buffs and book-lovers alike, McHugh offers us a precious gift, a reminder that our many narratives are intertwined and that – despite it all – they still bind us together.”—Jake Halpern, Pulitzer Prize Winner and New York Times Bestselling author     

“This more democratic canon is less about literary acumen and more about reading as mass self-revealment: Show McHugh the books Americans have flocked to over the course of history, she suggests, and she’ll show you what it means to be American… McHugh’s chapters, winningly, are not close readings of each book but mini-histories of the texts’ creation and reception, the authors’ biographies, the public’s moods, the contexts of various eras… McHugh has a knack for squeezing a lot of research into smallish spaces, and she sweetens the pot with throwaway but vivid details. (There are passing, tantalizing references to things like a “tuberculosis-fueled vampire panic” and a religious book against dancing called “From the Ball-Room to Hell.”)… Some of the conclusions about the composite American character — especially in its early years — won’t shock too many citizens. Americans are striving, competitive, materialistic, insecure, confident, proudly self-reliant, optimistic, performatively virtuous… But the book resoundingly and memorably establishes these qualities through reading habits, and it highlights two qualities that perhaps haven’t been as well covered: We are prescriptive and hypocritical. Without overdoing it, McHugh clearly delineates how good Americans are — or at least American authors are — at giving advice they don’t follow.”The New York Times
 
“With her usual eye for detail and knack for smart storytelling, Jess McHugh takes a savvy and sensitive look at the ‘secret origins’ of the books that made and defined us.  As McHugh shows, much of our American canon has to do largely with axe-grinding, reputation, redemption, and, often, who is permitted to tell the story—and you won’t want to miss a one moment of it.”—Brian Jay Jones, author of Becoming Dr. Seuss and the New York Times Bestselling Jim Henson

“We are what we eat, but we are even more what we read. Jess McHugh paints a rich and colorful portrait of America through the popular stories and reference books woven over decades into our cultural DNA. For book-lovers and historians alike, Americanon is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how famous books are made, and the lives they live long after they’re printed.”—Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer and writer for National Geographic

“What Jess McHugh has done with Americanon is draw a distinct, and necessary, line between our culture and our realities. The myths of what America is and what it means to be an American are strange, pernicious, and often inscrutable, but McHugh has managed a truly remarkable thing: finding actual and honest truth in the midst of it all.”—Jared Yates Sexton, author of American Rule

“The concept behind Americanon is nothing short of bril­liant, and journalist Jess McHugh delivers on her inspired premise with insight and aplomb… Some of the most astute observations in this penetrating history are about how these books’ creators did not always live by the same rules they imposed upon their rank-and-file readers. McHugh’s book is essential reading—illuminating, engaging and absorbing. You’ll never look at the dictionary or cookbook on your shelf in quite the same way.”BookPage (starred review)

“Journalist McHugh examines a long bookshelf of didactic books by which Americans have self-educated… A worthy, capably told look at a small canon of works demonstrating how to do well by doing good.”—Kirkus

“Journalist McHugh’s appealing cultural history dissects the American character through a close examination of ‘ordinary, instructional books that average Americans have consulted every day’… Brisk publication histories and author profiles enrich the cultural analysis, which is consistently on-point. This lucid survey entertains and enlightens.”Publishers Weekly

“In a work spanning literary criticism and history, journalist McHugh explores a series of popular nonfiction books that fostered stereotypical American values, such as entrepreneurship, individualism, or fealty to family and community, and also conveyed practical knowledge… McHugh’s work is distinctive and engaging as it describes American social history through the lens of mainstream nonfiction advice books, and explores how they define or redefine us.”—Library Journal

“With a snappy title and an earnest heart, Americanon, by journalist Jess McHugh, looks at 13 ‘American bibles’… Eschewing fiction, whose Hucks and Uncle Toms and March sisters might face conflicts all too obviously plucked from the tapestry of American history, the canny and erudite McHugh selects plotless but far better-selling instructional volumes—Webster’s Dictionaryfor goodness sake! McGuffey Readers!—and shows how these books reveal the inner objectives of striving Americans while at the same time helping their achievement… McHugh adroitly reveals how the DNA of each of these books can still be detected in an America that has in many ways evolved.”—Air Mail

[McHugh’s] not interested in nostalgia here, but a book-centric biopsy of the American soul. Sometimes that soul is bright and optimistic, and sometimes it’s dark and depraved. Often, and in each of her selections, it’s both at the same time. Of the thirteen books in McHugh’s analysis, not a single one is unequivocally praised or condemned. She not only investigates the history of each book but its messages and legacy as well… This is where Americanon excels: in celebrating the parts of each work that are worthy of celebration while not dismissing the problematic aspects of each work and its promulgated ideas… If you want a surprising book that isn’t afraid to sift through the good and the bad to handle the truth effectively, read Americanon.”—Parks & Recommendations

“75 Nonfiction Books You Should Read This Summer…We like to think that culture—be it national or regional—is a reflection of the highest echelons of artistic creation, that we are as worthy of our mythologies as they are of us. This is not the case. As Jess McHugh discovers in this deep dive into thirteen of America’s most owned books—from farmer’s almanacs to dictionaries to cookbooks to etiquette guides—a nation’s story is shaped and told from much humbler texts.”—LitHub

“One of the 10 best books of June…This delightful book argues that enduring bestsellers, including The Old Farmer’s Almanac and How to Win Friends and Influence People, have contributed to a unified national identity as much as revered founding documents like the Constitution.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Given the dominance of American power and culture over the last century, it may be difficult to grasp the idea that there was no such thing as an American when the Revolutionary War ended. The nation had been formed; now its people needed to be invented. In Americanon, Jess McHugh tells the story of this invention and the ongoing reinforcement and reinvention the American character has undergone since… Among McHugh’s accomplishments is the deft way she establishes the evolution of ideas across the books she explores… Jess McHugh’s achievement in Americanon is that she makes clear some of the problems with these aspirations are baked into their design and not a result of our frequently having fallen short of them.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“Given the dominance of American power and culture over the last century, it may be difficult to grasp the idea that there was no such thing as an American when the Revolutionary War ended. The nation had been formed; now its people needed to be invented. In Americanon, Jess McHugh tells the story of this invention and the ongoing reinforcement and reinvention the American character has undergone since… Among McHugh’s accomplishments is the deft way she establishes the evolution of ideas across the books she explores… Jess McHugh’s achievement in Americanon is that she makes clear some of the problems with these aspirations are baked into their design and not a result of our frequently having fallen short of them.”—The New Republic

 

Contact

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For all PR inquiries related to Americanon, please contact my publicist, Becky Odell: rodell@penguinrandomhouse.com 

My agent is Anna Sproul-Latimer, anna@neonliterary.com.

Compliments, opportunities, and pictures of dogs can go to jessmchugh3@gmail.com

 

Press

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Praise for AMERICANON:

“The concept behind Americanon is nothing short of bril­liant, and journalist Jess McHugh delivers on her inspired premise with insight and aplomb… Some of the most astute observations in this penetrating history are about how these books’ creators did not always live by the same rules they imposed upon their rank-and-file readers. McHugh’s book is essential reading—illuminating, engaging and absorbing. You’ll never look at the dictionary or cookbook on your shelf in quite the same way.”BookPage (starred review)

“This more democratic canon is less about literary acumen and more about reading as mass self-revealment: Show McHugh the books Americans have flocked to over the course of history, she suggests, and she’ll show you what it means to be American… McHugh’s chapters, winningly, are not close readings of each book but mini-histories of the texts’ creation and reception, the authors’ biographies, the public’s moods, the contexts of various eras… McHugh has a knack for squeezing a lot of research into smallish spaces, and she sweetens the pot with throwaway but vivid details. (There are passing, tantalizing references to things like a “tuberculosis-fueled vampire panic” and a religious book against dancing called “From the Ball-Room to Hell.”)… Some of the conclusions about the composite American character — especially in its early years — won’t shock too many citizens. Americans are striving, competitive, materialistic, insecure, confident, proudly self-reliant, optimistic, performatively virtuous… But the book resoundingly and memorably establishes these qualities through reading habits, and it highlights two qualities that perhaps haven’t been as well covered: We are prescriptive and hypocritical. Without overdoing it, McHugh clearly delineates how good Americans are — or at least American authors are — at giving advice they don’t follow.”The New York Times

“Journalist McHugh examines a long bookshelf of didactic books by which Americans have self-educated… A worthy, capably told look at a small canon of works demonstrating how to do well by doing good.”—Kirkus

“Journalist McHugh’s appealing cultural history dissects the American character through a close examination of ‘ordinary, instructional books that average Americans have consulted every day’… Brisk publication histories and author profiles enrich the cultural analysis, which is consistently on-point. This lucid survey entertains and enlightens.”Publishers Weekly

“In a work spanning literary criticism and history, journalist McHugh explores a series of popular nonfiction books that fostered stereotypical American values, such as entrepreneurship, individualism, or fealty to family and community, and also conveyed practical knowledge… McHugh’s work is distinctive and engaging as it describes American social history through the lens of mainstream nonfiction advice books, and explores how they define or redefine us.”—Library Journal

“With a snappy title and an earnest heart, Americanon, by journalist Jess McHugh, looks at 13 ‘American bibles’… Eschewing fiction, whose Hucks and Uncle Toms and March sisters might face conflicts all too obviously plucked from the tapestry of American history, the canny and erudite McHugh selects plotless but far better-selling instructional volumes—Webster’s Dictionaryfor goodness sake! McGuffey Readers!—and shows how these books reveal the inner objectives of striving Americans while at the same time helping their achievement… McHugh adroitly reveals how the DNA of each of these books can still be detected in an America that has in many ways evolved.”—Air Mail

[McHugh’s] not interested in nostalgia here, but a book-centric biopsy of the American soul. Sometimes that soul is bright and optimistic, and sometimes it’s dark and depraved. Often, and in each of her selections, it’s both at the same time. Of the thirteen books in McHugh’s analysis, not a single one is unequivocally praised or condemned. She not only investigates the history of each book but its messages and legacy as well… This is where Americanon excels: in celebrating the parts of each work that are worthy of celebration while not dismissing the problematic aspects of each work and its promulgated ideas… If you want a surprising book that isn’t afraid to sift through the good and the bad to handle the truth effectively, read Americanon.”—Parks & Recommendations

“75 Nonfiction Books You Should Read This Summer…We like to think that culture—be it national or regional—is a reflection of the highest echelons of artistic creation, that we are as worthy of our mythologies as they are of us. This is not the case. As Jess McHugh discovers in this deep dive into thirteen of America’s most owned books—from farmer’s almanacs to dictionaries to cookbooks to etiquette guides—a nation’s story is shaped and told from much humbler texts.”—LitHub

“One of the 10 best books of June…This delightful book argues that enduring bestsellers, including The Old Farmer’s Almanac and How to Win Friends and Influence People, have contributed to a unified national identity as much as revered founding documents like the Constitution.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Given the dominance of American power and culture over the last century, it may be difficult to grasp the idea that there was no such thing as an American when the Revolutionary War ended. The nation had been formed; now its people needed to be invented. In Americanon, Jess McHugh tells the story of this invention and the ongoing reinforcement and reinvention the American character has undergone since… Among McHugh’s accomplishments is the deft way she establishes the evolution of ideas across the books she explores… Jess McHugh’s achievement in Americanon is that she makes clear some of the problems with these aspirations are baked into their design and not a result of our frequently having fallen short of them.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“Given the dominance of American power and culture over the last century, it may be difficult to grasp the idea that there was no such thing as an American when the Revolutionary War ended. The nation had been formed; now its people needed to be invented. In Americanon, Jess McHugh tells the story of this invention and the ongoing reinforcement and reinvention the American character has undergone since… Among McHugh’s accomplishments is the deft way she establishes the evolution of ideas across the books she explores… Jess McHugh’s achievement in Americanon is that she makes clear some of the problems with these aspirations are baked into their design and not a result of our frequently having fallen short of them.”—The New Republic

 

Interviews and Events with Jess

American Library in Paris, Evenings With an Author

The American Writers Museum, A Conversation With Jess McHugh

Thoughts From a Page Podcast

Interview with WDET (NPR)

Speaking of Writers Podcast

Twitter

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