Danya Issawi Is Putting It In Writing
The New York-based media maven has plans to expand her horizons, setting her sights on Snoopy, a few novels, and maybe even a quaint cottage.
Danya Issawi learned her first hard lesson about journalism when she was in the second grade: Always fact-check before going to print. She wrote a regular newsletter for Mrs. Nelson’s class, and in one issue, she missed a few classmates who had won a mathletics competition.
“I had to go around the entire room and write the two names I had missed in pen,” she says. “My teacher said, ‘This is why it's important to get things right the first time,’ and I was like, ‘I'm eight, but slay, agreed.’”
That early editing experience didn’t put Issawi off from her writing dreams. An English teacher in high school convinced her to join the award-winning journalism program at her Kansas City, Kansas school, where she strengthened her reporting chops through work on the yearbook and the student newspaper. There was the pre-med blip on the radar in Issawi’s freshman year of college, but a trip to Istanbul ultimately cemented her career path to journalism.
“I was a photographer for a Syrian refugee organization, and I had to interview the kids for the website,” she explains. “I was like, ‘Wait, actually, I love writing, let me get back into storytelling.’”
These days, you’ll find Issawi’s byline at The Cut, where she currently holds the role of fashion news writer. Her snappy, voice-driven work ranges from profiles on celebrities like Ice Spice and Keke Palmer to hands-on reporting about the experience of being a U.S. Open ball person to funny blog posts asking why Crocs made cowboy boots. It’s a wide mix, but Issawi enjoys the freedom of not being tied down to one particular beat. “I typically find myself writing about culture and style—whatever's going on in the zeitgeist regarding those two things, and the Venn diagram where they intersect,” she says.
Centering her work around the world of fashion opens up an avenue of exploring culture.. She spent the first four years of her career floating around desks at the New York Times, and while she contributed to award-winning COVID reporting, she always had her eye on the Styles side of the paper. “Those stories capture an interesting snapshot of society at large,” Issawi says. “I like that you've got to look at people and analyze them and be curious about them.”
That curiosity means that Issawi can find stories pretty much everywhere she looks. The first thing she does every morning is check social media (“I've been trying to do this less because it's a horrible, jarring way to wake up,” she admits) to see what news has popped up overnight. More than newsworthy-moments, though, Issawi is seeking out emerging patterns in our culture, both online and out in the real world—like the one currently capturing her attention.
“Something I'm noticing right now is that everyone fucking loves Snoopy, and I want somebody to write about it—someone explain Snoopy,” she demands, half-joking. “I do love Snoopy and I love seeing Snoopy happy. I love when Snoopy gets to hold a pumpkin. I love when Snoopy is wearing a little knit beanie. But why, as a collective movement, do we just love Snoopy right now?”
Obviously, a large part of Issawi’s job involves on-the-ground reporting, whether that means attending press previews and fashion shows or meeting up with colleagues for post-work networking drinks and brand dinners. Over time, she’s tried to become more discerning about how many of those opportunities she takes on, wanting to be cautious about preserving some time for herself, too.
“In any job, you're going to have stints where you feel like work is taking up a lot of your headspace, but I feel like a good balance is where you sign off for the day, and you're not still thinking about your job and all the things you have to do and all the places you might have to go,” she says.
So, what does Issawi do to recharge in between stories? Lately, she says, she’s been drawn to older fashion documentaries like “The September Issue” and “First Monday in May” (I demand that she add the classic Isaac Mizrahi doc “Unzipped” to her viewing list), as well as comfort watches like “Practical Magic.” One of her friends is on a mission to watch every Academy Award Best Picture winner, so she’s been sitting in on a few of those. There’s a regular journaling practice in there, as well as standing appointments with her go-to nail tech for artistic manicures, and trips to a local cafe called Happy Medium where she can buy art supplies and craft.
We get off on a tangent about the video games we’re playing on our Nintendo Switches to wind down in the evenings: I’m currently building up my virtual farm in “Stardew Valley” while she’s playing a first-person series of short stories about a cursed family called “What Remains of Edith Finch.” (It should go without saying that we both love “Mario Kart.”)
Plus, Issawi adds casually, she’s working on a novel. It’s still in early phases, but it might just mark the start of the next chapter in her career.
“My dream in life is to write a few novels, and I'd love to turn those novels into screenplays, and I'd love to have two of those turn into movies where I'm the screenwriter and producer, and then I'd love to direct a film after I've learned how to direct,” she says. “This feels absolutely insane for me to say, because I didn't go to film school, but I look at Nora Ephron—and she’s Nora fucking Ephron—but she did it!”
Issawi’s other big goal is no less specific: A cottage by the beach, complete with two hens, two goats, and two lambs. (“It’s gonna be like Noah's Ark, but a cottage,” she jokes. “I don't know if any of this is going to be legal by the beach, but if people in the Hamptons do it, let me do it.”) Until those things happen, though, she’s going to keep working on maintaining a work-life balance, the most essential thing for any reporter to have in their toolkit. While her writing has earned her plenty of accolades and attention, Issawi isn’t interested in having it define her.
“A lot of times, especially as writers for larger publications, there's maybe an expectation to make it your personality, in a way, and I think it's good to have a distinction between who you are as a person and who you are in your job, and who you are as a writer, even,” she says. “Blurring the two becomes very off-putting, and then you start looking for things in places maybe you shouldn’t.”
The Snoopy thing, though—someone should definitely be looking into that. Hopefully, it’s Issawi.