Trenton native Christopher Zara reveals struggles and lack of education on his path to a successful journalism career in new memoir
Writing was on Christopher Zara’s radar early on. The Trenton-born resident had grade-school teachers pull him aside and say, “Kid, you can really write.” But Zara had behavioral issues, which held him back. He made it to 10th grade and eventually got a GED during the spring of 1988. In his upcoming book, Uneducated: A Memoir of Flunking Out, Falling Apart, and Finding my Worth—published by Little, Brown, and Company and released on May 16, 2023—Zara talks about his personal experiences navigating the white-collar world of journalism, without a college degree.
Life wasn’t easy for Zara. After high school, he took on low wage work then struggled with addiction. He left Trenton in 1996 and lived in Florida—where he got clean—and Seattle before settling in New York City. While living in Seattle, Zara felt he was “wandering around”. He took a chance and pitched a story idea to a publication. And on his first try, he got the assignment. “That was an omen,” he said. “Of course, it’s really hard. A lot of people said ‘no’ afterwards.” But it was in New York where he interned with a newspaper that was geared towards the performing arts, equipping him with plenty of journalism knowledge. At Show Business Weekly he became a managing editor and landed a lot of experience in design, editing, writing, and reporting. Unfortunately, the year was 2005, the end of the era for those types of newspapers. “It wasn’t viable to continue,” Zara said. “We were obsolete by the time I started. I was the last editor there.”
But Zara felt fortunate to get into the world of online journalism. He became the deputy media and culture editor of International Business Times. “I got there at the right time. They bought Newsweek and I got experience at a mainstream publication,” he said, adding that it was, “luck and timing”.
Zara, who is currently a senior editor at Fast Company and runs the news desk, doesn’t see writing as a glamorous job. “There is a lot of grunt work involved,” he shared. “You have to collect facts. You have to interview people. You have to be on Twitter. It doesn’t feel glamorous on a day-to-day basis.”
However, he does recall a highlight of his career, covering the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference. “I got to go to Austin, Texas and be in the big conference with real journalists, having a drink in the bar while I work. It’s work, but it’s what I always imagined working in news would be like.”
Personal Challenges and Inspiration
Mental challenges, such as social anxiety is what Zara deals with on a daily basis. “It’s in the back of your head, feeling like you don’t belong,” he explained. “Trying to mask my deep social anxiety. The thing I had to wrestle with [was that] this is a working-class business. It’s not a business to get rich. I don’t feel like I’ve made it. No matter what, I have to work for a living.”
When it comes to inspiration, for Zara, it begins at home. He is motivated by his wife who he said had a much tougher upbringing and home situation, nor did she have the opportunity to go to college. “She started to teach herself graphic design in her forties,” he shared, “and turned it into a real career—designing ad campaigns for Broadway shows.”
Zara is enthusiastic about people who transcend their upbringing. His dream is to help young writers get their start. He expressed, “I think the thing that gets me excited about the future is mentoring writers and helping people find their own path and their own voice.”
Even though Zara didn’t fulfill an academic path, he remembered the encouragement his teachers gave him in grade school, growing up in Trenton—and he believed them and carries those words of affirmation with him today. Though Zara is now a NYC resident, he says, “Trenton is always a part of who you are”.
Zara’s book, Uneducated: A Memoir of Flunking Out, Falling Apart, and Finding my Worth, will be available May 16th. The launch party will be held on that day, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Housing Work Bookstore café, which is a non-profit organization located at 126 Crosby Street, New York, NY.
For more information on Christopher Zara, visit: https://christopherzara.com/
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