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Former Texas Monthly Editor Jake Silverstein Takes on Manhattan and the World’s Most Famous Newsroom

After a wide-ranging search that took months, on March 28 the New York Times announced that Jake Silverstein, who has served as the editor of Texas Monthly since 2008, would take the helm of the New York Times Magazine. His local fans and staff mourned the announcement (“totally depressed,” an editor friend e-mailed), and Emmis Publishing, parent company of Texas Monthly, cast a bit of a pall on his departure by filing suit against The New York Times Company for allegedly breaching his contract with Emmis.

They have reason to grieve—under Silverstein’s charge, Texas Monthly flourished and was nominated for 12 National Magazine Awards and won four, including the general excellence prize. Attention-getting features like “The 50 Best BBQ Joints . . . in the World!,” were nominated for a 2014 National Magazine Award. In the midst of his transition, just before he headed east, Silverstein kindly took time to sit down with TRIBEZA and discuss his move. We’re sorry to see his creative vision leave Austin, but excited about the dust that he will surely kick up in Manhattan.

First off, hearty congrats on your new post! I imagine it’s pretty difficult to turn down the New York Times. Did you jump at the opportunity, or did this move require some serious deliberating?

It was a tough decision. Leaving Austin, leaving Texas, and leaving Texas Monthly is not something I had been planning on doing at all. I love it here. So it took a lot of thought, but in the end, this is just such an exciting opportunity that we couldn’t pass it up.

When TRIBEZA featured you last July, you talked about how much you liked your sleepy Brykerwoods neighborhood. How will you channel your inner green belt in Midtown?

Probably by living in Jersey.

Are you working on a plan to clone Times contributor Michael Lewis so he can write every week?

I’m hoping my good friends at A&M will handle that for me.

Is there a writer or columnist, not currently on the staff, who is a model for the kind of work you want to bring to the magazine?

I tend to think that the best writers aren’t models of other writers or of types of work. What makes them great is the singularity of their voices. I will say that I intend to publish as many of these kinds of voices as I can. I love writers the way kids love candy.

Which three types of stories are we going to see much less of?

I’m going to refrain from answering “what’s next?” questions until I’ve actually started.

Besides finding the bathroom, what’s on your short list for your first day in Renzo Piano’s New York Times Building?

Get Will Shortz to start giving me the answers to the Saturday crossword on Fridays.

With your appointment, the Times plans to pull the magazine closer to the newsroom—can you elaborate on that?

Not really. I don’t mean to be coy, but it would be presumptuous of me to outline plans for this before I’m actually on the job. What I’ll say is that the prospect of working closely with the greatest newsroom on earth is incredibly exciting to me. I’m still pinching myself about that.

You spent a chapter in NYC in the early nineties, when you met your wife. How did the city prepare you for your role at Texas Monthly? In turn, how have six years at TM prepared you for the New York Times Magazine?

One thing always leads to another. Last time I was in New York I was working at Harper’s, and that certainly helped prepare me for the kind of literary longform journalism we practice at Texas Monthly. My time here (eight years actually) taught me a lot about the power of storytelling. Working with great writers like Katy Vine, John Spong, Mike Hall, Mimi Swartz, Pam Colloff, Sam Gwynne, Nate Blakeslee, and the whole crew—it has really shaped how I think about narratives. I’ve honestly learned more from Skip Hollandsworth than I could have from any journalism school. There’s something else, too. Texas Monthly as a whole—the spirit of the place that was instilled by Mike Levy and imparted to me by Evan Smith—has taught me something even more valuable: how to create the conditions under which greatness can be achieved. Mike demanded greatness and so did Evan, but they did it in a menschy, familial, high-spirited way that coaxed the best out of everyone around. Texas Monthly is a truly special place. It’s a unique place. It’s a fun place. And if I can carry just a small portion of that with me wherever I go I’ll be lucky.

Sure, you’re heading to the land of enviable bagels, but what tacos (or restaurants) are you going to dream about from your desk on Eighth Avenue?

I’ll miss all barbecue and all above-average Tex-Mex. Also the Baja Shrimp Taco at Torchy’s. Royal Blue’s soups. Qui. The Counter Café. Fonda San Miguel. And did I mention barbecue?

Will you lament a lack of brisket features (and/or do you anticipate a flood of résumés applying for the position of “barbecue editor”)?

Applications have already been coming in via social media. Apparently Daniel Vaughn was onto something.

Would you wager that there’s another Texas chapter on your horizon?

For sure. We still have a crumbling old adobe house in Marfa that will keep us theoretically tied to Texas for the foreseeable future. And the people at Texas Monthly are family to me and always will be. I’ll be around.

Credits

Photography by Leann Mueller

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