Growing up in the small Jewish community of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Bari Weiss never had aspirations of becoming a writer. “I was always interested in ideas and politics,” she said, but thought her outgoing and forthright nature would be best suited for a position as a rabbi.
But after setting foot on Columbia University’s campus in 2003, Weiss never looked back. “My whole writing career really began at Columbia, but it was sort of serendipitous,” she said. As a political activist on campus, Weiss began articulating her ideas through writing. She eventually earned herself a column in the “Columbia Daily Spectator” and created “The Current,” a journal of contemporary politics, culture and Jewish affairs at Columbia. “I sort of realized wow, maybe this could be something that I do beyond college, maybe professionally.”
“Being an opinion journalist is a career path that monetizes talking about ideas and having a lot of nerve and chutzpah. That’s the perfect job for me.”
Now, Weiss — who has worked at The Wall Street Journal and Tablet Magazine — said she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Being an opinion journalist is a career path that monetizes talking about ideas and having a lot of nerve and chutzpah. That’s the perfect job for me,” she quipped. “I wake up every day excited to go to work.”
Since joining The New York Times last year as an op-ed writer and editor, she has received considerable feedback on her columns — both laudatory and critical. But as an opinion writer, Weiss said that it is just part of the work; “if you try to write for the crowd, you aren’t doing your job.” Yet, she has enjoyed forming a relationship with her readers. “I think they appreciate that they are getting what I am really thinking, sort of unvarnished,” Weiss explained.
Despite tackling polarizing topics such as the “Me Too” movement and fascism in the 21st century, there is one thing Weiss will never do: apologize for incorporating her Jewish background into her work. “It is so fundamental to my identity, I don’t think about it,” she said. “I write from where I am, and where I am is to be a Jew in 2018 and I never check that at the door.”
As her candid pieces continue to generate a stir, Weiss has no plans to slow down. “I never could have dreamed that I would be here, so who knows what the next thing will be. But I definitely am a person that is always trying to push forward.”
Let’s get real: When she is not writing and editing highbrow pieces for The New York Times, Weiss makes sure to tune in to her favorite show — “The Real Housewives of New York City.”