Ann Friedman Tickles Your Mind

written by Tricia Louvar

ann-friedman-headshotAnn Friedman has become a household name with her wit in print and the scrawls from her hand in a typeface-heavy world. Friedman has a flourishing multifaceted career as a freelance journalist, illustrator and commentator on gender, media, technology and culture. She’s known for her handwritten pie charts published at the Los Angeles Times and The Hairpin. Her writing has appeared in The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Observer Sunday Magazine, Marie Claire, The Gentlewoman, The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, among other anthologies and publications. She is currently a columnist for New York Magazine and co-host of the popular podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, which she creates with Aminatou Sow.

Tricia Louvar, managing editor of 1859 Oregon’s Magazine, interviewed Ann about curiosity, creativity and pivot points. Here’s what the changemaker had to say….

TL: What makes you curious?

AF: I’m curious about the experiences of people very different from me. On a selfish level, I like being a journalist because I get to talk to strangers about things they care about and decisions they make.

TL: Why is being curious important now, maybe more than ever?

AF: Curiosity has always been a core journalistic skill, I think. But now that most of us get our news from Facebook and Twitter, where we’ve essentially curated the perspectives and sources, it’s important for all of us to ask questions about what we’re missing, which perspectives we never get, and why we don’t understand certain things.

TL: You write about gender, technology and culture. Is there a difference between a good feminist and a bad feminist in the modern times? Or can you be both?

AF: This is a better question for Roxane Gay! I’m not sure “good” and “bad” are helpful categories when it comes to my personal interpretation of feminism. To me the most important thing is to be questioning your choices (not making them unthinkingly or automatically) and asking yourself how your actions correspond to your beliefs. I don’t know a single person who is good at living up to their political beliefs all the time, so if the standard is ideological perfection, I’d say most of us are bad feminists.

TL: How does being a feminist filter your graphical, creative work?

AF: I’ve never thought about this before. Maybe it’s a feminist act to publish handwritten, half-baked pie charts without worrying that people will think of me as unserious or sloppy. 

TL: In a world filled with digital noise and fickle followers, how do you as a freelance journalist/changemaker select a story and stick with it?

AF: It can be hard for me to keep my focus on a feature-length article. But it’s pretty easy for me to be a columnist who focuses on recurring themes. I realized pretty early on that no one is reading everything I publish, which gives me some freedom to return to ideas I’ve already explored. The hard thing isn’t sticking with a story. The hard thing for me is often finding a new narrative or fresh way of looking at an old story.

shame-bummerTL: You’re known for your wry, pedestrian-hued detailed commentary, with accompanying hand-drawn pie charts. How do graphics and text work together in your illustrative pieces?

AF: The open secret about my pie charts is that they are barely graphic. They’re just words, handwritten, and arranged in slices of a circle. I think I could write a short essay to replace each pie chart, but the essay does not get the same response because sometimes it just tickles the brain to see words arranged in a different way. And handwritten things really connect in an era when we’re used to seeing all text typed out.

TL: What was a pivotal point in your career as a writer/illustrator? How did it change you?

AF: I’m only a writer now because I was fired from my editing job in 2012. That was pretty pivotal! Even though I’d always wanted to be a full-time writer at some point, I’m not sure I would have backed myself if I hadn’t been fired. The experience taught me that I draw a lot of creativity from times of uncertainty in my life.

TL: Name your top five inspirational people.

AF: In no particular order…

  1. My friend Sarah, a brilliant artistic mind who refuses to be hemmed in by any one medium and effortlessly dives into new projects. She is also incredible at working her day job only as much as she needs to for money, and then really devoting herself to her creative pursuits. 
  2. My friend Aminatou, who is both lightning quick and self-assured. She is great at demanding the best of herself and the people she knows, while also being very supportive and caring so that the best actually comes to pass.
  3. My friend Bridget, someone who lives creatively in everything she does. She is an art therapist, and art infuses both her life and her work—and it’s even more remarkable because she’s not documenting any of it or performing it on the internet. It’s just for herself and for the people she works with. She’s an important reminder for me that creative work is still creative work, even if the wider world never sees it or appreciates it.
  4. My friend Lara, who has been incredibly tenacious in pursuing her creative vision on her own terms. She’s one of the most motivated people I know when it comes to self-driven, long-running projects, she has a great moral compass, and she doesn’t just make work for existing outlets and spaces: If the ideal outlet doesn’t exist for her work, she creates it.
  5. RuPaul Charles. (In case there is any contextual confusion, I should probably state that I do not personally know RuPaul.) 

TL: What’s next for you?

AF: I think I’m going to write a book.