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 will be published by Dutton (Penguin-Random House) June 1, 2021.
My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Paris Review Daily, TIME.com, New York Magazine's The Cut, The New Republic, Fortune, Village Voice, International 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.
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.
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.
After grueling training, a rare few civilians and their dogs are allowed to participate in criminal investigations by searching for cadavers.
“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.”
Why did Haussmann tear down 19,000 buildings in central Paris? According to his memoirs: “It is easier to cut through the center of the pie than through the crust.”
Nearly two centuries later, at a time when truth is increasingly undervalued and American exceptionalism is widely embraced, the dictionary takes on fresh significance.
How to Eat Alone (And Like It), October 2019
Finding Open-Minded Health Care Abroad, January 2019
An Online Tool to Catch Workplace Sexual Predators, January 2019
The French Plan to Fix Inequality — By Ignoring It, September 2018
Old Paris Is No More, July 2019
A Flower for Your Thoughts, January 2019
A Drive Through the Scottish Highlands, April 2018
Inside the Fight to Keep Liverpool's Punk Scene Alive, January 2018
A Brief History of the Modern Suitcase, December 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 Ireland, October 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
The Most Dangerous Moves From the Least Dangerous Game, October 2013
"How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their own lives," The Washington Post
The Nationalist Roots of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, The Paris Review
Old Paris Is No More, Lapham's Quarterly
A Puritan Minister Incited Fury by Pushing Inoculation, Washington Post
A Flower for Your Thoughts, Lapham's Quarterly
How to Eat Alone (And Like It), The New York Times
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
Why France Is Losing the War on Anti-Semitism, The New Republic
The French Plan to Fix Inequality — By Ignoring It, The New Republic
Refugee Women Are Carrying More Than An Uncertain Future, International Business Times
What A Breakdown Of Free Travel Means For Europe's Economy, International Business Times
Beer, Wine, And Other Acts Of French Defiance, International Business Times
One Syrian's Journey From Aleppo To Paris, International Business Times
The Remaking Of Sinn Fein In Northern Ireland, International 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 Predators, The Wall Street Journal
As abortion restrictions increase, these 10 states are seeking a new route to access, Washington Post's The Lily
Her rape kit sat untested for over 20 years. She’s fighting to make sure that stops happening, Washington 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
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
Here's How Hotel Security Could Change After the Las Vegas Massacre, Travel + Leisure
Praise for Americanon:, coming JUNE 1, 2021
“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
“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
“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
Read more and pre-order here.
Anna Sproul-Latimer of Neon is my literary agent.