10 Writers and Editors Who Are Changing the National Conversation

The authors, novelists, curators and essayists you should know

Kristen Roupenian became a literary (and viral) sensation after publishing her debut short story, 'Cat Person,' in The New Yorker.

Their words have inspired new passions, given voice to the disenfranchised, shaped national conversations and held the powerful to account, all with verve and intelligence. Below, you can get to know the writers, editors and media innovators included on this year’s Adweek Creative 100:

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Ronan Farrow
Author, Journalist

This is Ronan Farrow’s year. In May, he won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award for his scorching series of New Yorker articles that helped fell one of Hollywood’s most powerful men: Harvey Weinstein. A month earlier, Farrow published his widely acclaimed first book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, an exploration of the “collapse of American diplomacy and the abdication of global leadership.”

The son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Farrow demonstrated an intellectual precocity and “an extraordinary sense of public service” from an early age. At 11, he began taking classes at Bard College, graduating at 16. Farrow’s diverse resume includes interning on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and working for Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan at the State Department. While in the Sudan volunteering for Unicef, Farrow contracted a bone infection, necessitating multiple operations, leaving him either in a wheelchair or on crutches, and still he entered Yale law school at 18.

Next up for the unstoppable Farrow: a three-year development deal with HBO and another book, Catch and Kill, which will expand his investigations into sexual misconduct and “the machine deployed by powerful men to silence survivors of abuse and threaten reporters chasing those survivors’ stories.”

Says Farrow: “Journalism is the one explicitly constitutionally protected profession we have in this country, and I think there’s a good reason for that. If we want to hold the powerful accountable, and try to ensure that the most vulnerable people in this country have a voice, one of the best tools to do that is through reporting.”
A.J. Katz

Roxane Gay
Author, Cultural Critic, Essayist

Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, exploring the intertwined themes of the immigrant experience, race, privilege and sexual violence, marked her ascent as an important literary voice. Her follow-up collection of essays, Bad Feminist, marked her arrival.

Known for her distinctive, inclusive, raw and not-holding-anything-back style, Gay’s 2017 New York Times best-seller, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, discussed fatness from the perspective of an overweight person and not after the triumph of weight loss. “Most of the time when people write about fatness, they write about fatness after having lost a significant amount of weight,” she says. “But I didn’t have that story, so I was interested in just writing a different kind of story.”

Last year, she also published the short story collection, Difficult Women, and created her first comic book, World of Wakanda. “It was really exciting to be able to write black, gay women into the Marvel canon,” she says.

Prolific as well as insightful, Gay is at work crafting a book of writing advice, an essay collection about TV and culture, a YA novel called The Year I Learned Everything and adapting her first novel into a film with director Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Her advice to writers? “You have to be relentless and you have to find a way to grit your way through all that rejection. … It’s OK to feel dejected and hopeless, as long as you don’t let that keep you from continuing to write and continuing to try and put yourself out there.”
Nicole Ortiz

Melisse Gelula
Co-founder, Chief Content Officer, Well + Good

Before kale was cool and wellness gurus were the rage, Gelula spotted the nascent trend in launching a national wellness and lifestyle brand.

In 2009, using her journalism background to report stories on health, Gelula co-founded the digital media company Well + Good. Today, the website has 8 million monthly unique visitors, 800,000 email subscribers and 1.2 million followers on social media. Last year, it garnered the Webby Award for Best Health Website. This year, Fast Company named the site one of the world’s most innovative firms in wellness.

The former editor in chief of SpaFinder Lifestyle and travel editor at Fodor’s Travel Publications, Gelula holds a master’s from the University of Toronto and six years of psychoanalyst training. She continues to monitor the zeitgeist. Last year, Well + Good launched a travel vertical, and this year, she is bringing that concept and online content out into the real world by hosting healthy lifestyle retreats with workshops for yoga, meditation, healthy food and wellness products. —Senta Scarborough

Photo: Justin Bettman

Mikki Halpin
Editor in Chief, Damn Joan

There’s nothing safe about the visually compelling webzine Damn Joan, with its mood-swinging monthly themes (such as “happy death” and “(re)birth”) matched with games, mysteries and phone trees where you might find the Partridge Family. Since Damn Joan’s launch in 2017, Halpin has overseen five boundary-pushing editions, including a transmedia murder mystery, where users discover diaries and cult websites as they solve the crime.

Previously, Halpin guided the creative content of publications for and about women, serving as editor at large for Lenny Letter, deputy editor at Glamour and editorial director of Refinery29. “This sounds like a satirical Tinder bio,” she says, “but I just want to tell good stories and have fun. And pay the rent.”

Halpin’s actual bio is about changing things up. In 1993, she created an app allowing feature films to be played on PCs. She launched a 1996 webzine featured at the Whitney Biennial exhibition of emerging artists. In 2000, Halpin was co-creative director of an Oxygen network show.

“I’ve always gone where I could tell the best stories in the most interesting ways,” she says. “Now, at Damn Joan, I don’t have to choose—it’s a brand that has creative exploration built in.”

Next up: She wants to take over The Daily Show. Well. not exactly, Halpin wants to create a feminist sketch show for Instagram. “In my head,” she says, “it’s as if The Daily Show was run by weird feminists who cover pop culture, style and politics.”
Senta Scarborough

Photo: Elena Seibert

Min Jin Lee
Novelist and Essayist

In 1989, novelist and essayist Min Jin Lee attended a lecture by an American missionary discussing the history of Koreans living in Japan. He shared a story about a young boy who was born in Japan but was ethnically Korean and who committed suicide after being bullied at school by his Japanese classmates. “I became sort of obsessed with this idea of, ‘Why would people hate you just because you’re Korean?’” That led her on the journey that eventually resulted in the publication of her 2017 New York Times best-seller, Pachinko.

It was hardly a quick-turnaround, overnight success. A National Book Award finalist, Lee wrote the novel between 1996 and 2003, based on academic research, but then shelved it. She published her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires, while living in Japan, in 2007. Casting about for her next project, she decided to delve back into the unpublished book and figure out where it went wrong.

“I started interviewing people,” she says. “And as I interviewed all these different kinds of people on the ground where they suffered, it made me realize that they don’t see themselves as victims. They see themselves as ordinary people. … I don’t even know why I didn’t know that. I think I was so stuck on the sad things that happened to them that I didn’t realize that they’re not even sad people.”

About the struggles and frustrations from page to published, Lee says: “That’s the funniest thing about wishes that come from your heart. You don’t know why they’re there, and you don’t know which ones you’re going to honor. But I did honor my wish to make good works of art.”
Nicole Ortiz

Brit Morin
Founder and CEO, Brit + Co

From her youth, Brit Morin was always a creator. As a latchkey child in the ’80s and ’90s, she made things like custom clothes and jewelry—and even a beach bag from Capri Sun cases. As the internet started to become a bigger part of daily life, Morin learned to code. Setting her sights on Silicon Valley, she landed at iTunes, Google and YouTube.

It was while trying to work with TV networks to get long-form video content for YouTube that she realized traditional media companies seemed outdated compared to millennials who were used to uploading content for free and amassing followings just by being themselves. “I left Google with the idea that media was about to get completely disrupted,” she says.

After some time off, Morin joined TechShop, what she calls a “gym for making things,” and started pinning her projects, like décor for her wedding and earrings, on Pinterest. That’s when she started to gain a following of young women who were fascinated by what she was doing, but felt they didn’t have the skills to do it themselves. In 2011 she founded Brit + Co as a media company that included a community of experts in topics like beauty, fashion, food and home.

“It really bothered me this generation—my generation—aspired to be creative, but didn’t know where to start,” says Morin. “It was almost like a new generation of Martha Stewart needed to exist to teach them how.”
Lisa Lacy

Vera Papisova
Wellness Editor, Teen Vogue

When, two years ago, Vera Papisova was named Teen Vogue’s first wellness editor, she sat down and composed a syllabus, with help from experts, outlining how she wanted to cover mental, physical and sexual health, relationships, body image, and other issues from an intersectional perspective. The groundbreaking vertical, launched in March 2016 with such content as “What It Means to Be Intersex” and “This Is a Love Letter for Any Uterus That Bleeds,” saw its traffic increase 10 percent month over month its first year live.

Earlier this year, the Boston University graduate was promoted to wellness features editor, expanding her platform to editing and producing stories and videos on topics that include mental health, nutrition, sexual identity and fitness. In her video series, Guys Read, Papisova invited men to read stories about women’s issues by women. Her most commented-on piece was also Teen Vogue’s best-performing article of 2018, “Sexual Harassment Was Rampant at Coachella.” In it, Papisova interviewed 54 women attending the wildly popular musical festival: All of them described being groped, assaulted or sexually harassed. Papisova herself was inappropriately touched 22 times, shining a light on the ways in which women are violated by strangers in public spaces.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.