Kristen Millares Young: Seattle-Based Journalist, Novelist & Nonprofit Co-Founder
We connected with Kristen through an online writing community, and were thrilled that she was willing to be profiled. Her insights on the PNW, on the field of journalism, and as co-founder of nonprofit newsroom InvestigateWest, can apply to all of us…plus we now have a new way to drink coffee that we’re desperate to try.
Name: Kristen Millares Young
Where do you live now: Seattle
What is your career path?: I want to write gorgeous books.
What other passions do you have?: I care deeply about how stories shape our perceptions of the world and our belief in our own possibilities.
Where can others find you and your work online?: www.kristenmyoung.com
Favorite thing about the PNW?: The landscape here still bears the scars of glacial retreat.
How do you take your coffee?: I use a metal stovetop cafetera, the same kind that my abuela used to make Cuban coffee with Café Bustelo. These days, I skip the sugar and add hot milk and honey to my espresso.
How do you take notes and record info?: I draft my novels on my computer, take longhand notes while conducting research with printed materials and record spontaneous notes with my phone.
Favorite season in the PNW?: Late summer
When you’re out, how do you protect yourself from the rain?: The most important part is not to care about the wet and cold, but I’ve been rocking a Pendleton wool hoodie this winter.
Photo Credit: Natalie Shields
Please share how you view your work in both journalism and in creative writing/fiction?: As a practicing journalist, my work has most recently appeared in the Guardian and the New York Times, outlets that serve a wide audience with rigorous reporting in the public interest.
As a novelist, I am an obsessive apprentice to the art of revision. I care about sentences that sing.
Please tell us about your experience of co-founding InvestigateWest. How did you discover/decide the need, and what was the process you and your team went through to fill it?: A group of journalists at the Seattle P-I dreamed up a way to continue the in-depth investigations that had long been the hallmark of newspapers, though many, like our former employer, were ceasing print publications and laying waste to large staffs of skilled reporters and photographers. We incorporated as a 501(c)(3) to create a structure through which concerned individuals and foundations could make tax-deductible donations in support of better reporting about the environment, public health and social justice.
Tell us about your journey as a non-profit co-founder, and now President of the Board of Directors — what lessons have you learned, how have you and InvestigateWest grown?: As a board member, I volunteer my time because I believe in the skills and capacity of our staff, who are responsible for carrying out InvestigateWest’s mission to create journalism for the common good. I learn every day from the persistence of Executive Director Robert McClure, a fellow co-founder and the driving force behind InvestigateWest. I have also been impressed with the multivalenced distribution and reporting partnerships created by Managing Director Lee van der Voo, whose meticulous, methodical approach to understanding the world inspires all who know her. Persistence and adaptability — these are qualities that have sustained InvestigateWest through eight years that have claimed much larger newsrooms than ours.
To grow into my role as board president, I am studying the example of two savvy women I am fortunate to claim as friends, Alfa Demmellash of Rising Tide Capital and Patricia Gray of Pike Place Market Foundation. Alfa has shown me again and again how vision acts as a gathering force. Patricia taught me that building a community of support is about connecting people with their values. Framing our campaigns through these lenses has allowed me to ask for what InvestigateWest needs, which is the backing of our community.
What are ways that you manage to stay motivated through challenges the field of journalism is facing? And/or, how do you stay motivated your reporting and research requires you dig deeply into dark and difficult topics?: To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of being silenced.
While reporting about the disappearance of Native actress Misty Upham for the Guardian, I struggled with the knowledge that some people suffer without cease, and that many peoples are oppressed by the systems meant to serve them. Doing my job well means staying buoyant enough to come back to the facts. It’s a hard thing to do, but together, we must.
“Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.” — James Baldwin
How has life in the Pacific Northwest shaped your view of journalism?: Journalists are fundamentally optimistic, despite the world weariness that attends exhausted people. As practitioners, we believe that what you think matters, and we tell stories so your knowledge of their truths can change our collective consciousness and your individual actions.
And vice versa, how has your journalism experience shaped your view of the Pacific Northwest?: Too many people make the Pacific Northwest their home but maintain an ahistorical view of where they live, a perspective cobbled together from personal and professional interactions that take societies and environments at face value. I came to know this place as a journalist, and in the process learned hard socioeconomic truths that belie the dominance of progressive values.
Just this year, InvestigateWest debuted a month-long series of stories that revealed staggering systemic racism within the criminal justice system of Oregon. Called Unequal Justice, InvestigateWest’s collaboration with Pamplin Media Group in Oregon was founded on a database by Kate Willson, who compiled more than 5 million documents about stops and arrests in Oregon during the past decade.*
Unequal Justice is the first statewide examination of disparities that play out in Oregon. Producing this kind of work is the reason we became journalists. As a Latinx, I am proud to play my small part as board president of our nonprofit newsroom. I am grateful to our reporting partners for amplifying the experience of communities of color who continue to be ill served.
A better society begins with awareness, and that’s what InvestigateWest works to provide for laypeople and policy makers.
What do you love talking about at parties?: Sometimes, I can’t stop talking about politics, even when it hurts.
Has any specific woman or women in your life made a significant impact on you?: My Cuban grandmother wrote poetry and painted in the brief times she wasn’t caring for me and my sister. Abuela showed me how to pursue my passions in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. She overcame linguistic, economic and sociopolitical pressures to plant her family in this country.
What hidden talents do you have?: Naming a desire is powerful. Singing brings me so much joy that I’d like to front a band.
Any big “bucket list” items that you’re focused on?: My first novel SUBDUCTION — a modern love story between an anthropologist and a hoarder’s son — has been years in the making. I am looking forward to sharing it with the world.
What’s your most ambitious career goal?: I want to write the kind of books that I love to read.
*Editor’s note: Kristen shared a number of statistics and results with us from the Unequal Justice series, and they were indeed staggering. We encourage readers to take a look.