An interview with Zara Stone from The Write Stuff series:
Zara Stone (she/her) is a writer and journalist who lives in San Francisco. She’s the author of The Future of Science Is Female: The Brilliant Minds Shaping the 21st Century, a nonfiction children’s book that introduces diverse women in STEM, and her latest work is Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery In Prisons – described as “essential reading for anyone interested in criminal rehabilitation” by Publishers Weekly. Stone’s reporting has been published by The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Forbes, the BBC, VICE, ABC News, and Cosmopolitan, among others. Her work covers the intersection of social justice, subcultures and technology.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I’m an author and a freelance journalist. I follow that statement with, “published by X, Y, Z,” (The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post etc.) as everyone inevitably asks what publications I write for. I’m proud to have written for some big names but I wish there was less import placed on where your work resides, and more on the quality of the work itself.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
Information overload! With so much data at my fingertips, it feels like nothing is ever “complete.” There’s always more to learn, and sometimes I just have to pull back and let myself be OK with what I don’t know, so I can start writing.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
She wouldn’t listen to me.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Mostly, yes. I think about what 15-year-old Zara would make of where I am today, and she’d be very impressed. I’ve achieved things far beyond her imagination, and she was a precocious kid.
Why do you get up every morning?
Deadlines! And five alarms, each blaring “Shake it Off,” by Taylor Swift. I used to love that song…
What’s wrong with society today?
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
Hawk Hill. Paddleboarding in Sausalito Bay. The Redwoods. Hula hooping in Dolores Park. My swing chair.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
As someone who reports and writes about image and identity, I’m intimately aware that all clothing choices are reflective of how one presents to the world. That concept contains multiples of course; but even a default choice is still a statement – it’s OK to express that today I feel lazy/lost/bold or want to present as invisible/irresistible/archetypal. I tend to swing towards colorful clothes, fun prints, and dresses. Today I’m in a pink and blue maxi-dress, paired with handmade pendant earrings (pandemic hobbies) and a black plastic choker.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I’m working on a story about how nude photos get smuggled into prison, which touches on larger themes of censorship, rehabilitation, and why communication is so important for the incarcerated. I’m happy with how it’s progressing; I’ve built trust in the prison communities and people are talking to me.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Clambering up art installations at The Midway, dancing under the sky, LED hula hoops, sweaty friend hugs, and colorful cocktails.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Almond marzipan, melted chocolate, fried onions, vanilla, Thierry Mugler’s Angel, coconut body oil, and the sea spray on Ocean Beach.
What are you unable to live without?
Touch. And Cadbury’s chocolate.
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
To go to space! In many ways, this is a real possibility (thanks to Bezos and the billionaire boy’s club) and something that could feasibly happen in my lifetime. The idea of viewing the world from far above feels almost romantic to me, a poetic perspective of my place in society and how the different facets of nature and mankind fit together. To travel beyond would help me grapple with my own mortality… and the view would be something else as well.