Lisa Butterworth, Writer & Editor
Lisa Butterworth, if you don't mind - all the integrity and inspiration you could hope for in one post, not to mention some damn good humour. We love what she does at BUST among other places, not to mention her impeccable taste in music. Thanks a million, Lisa!
What do you do?
The short answer: I’m a writer and editor. The less short answer: I obsess about girl culture as the West Coast editor of BUSTmagazine, I shape all the features for Tidal, the biannual lifestyle magazine I edit, and I cover all things awesome for outlets like Nylon, Vulture, The Cut, Cosmopolitan.com, and basically anyone who’ll let me tell a good story.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
“Everyday I’m hustlin’.” The freelance grind is seriously no joke! Also, to paraphrase writing guru Anne Lamott: Just sit down and write a shitty first draft. Perfectionism is my own worst troll. And a third: Appreciate. In an industry where someone else is always landing a bigger assignment, writing a better story, or seemingly living the career trajectory of my dreams, it’s crucial for me to remind myself how lucky I feel to do what I do.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
1) Discovering Sassy in junior high. It was my portal to the very cool world I knew was lurking outside my suburban SoCal hometown (helloooo, Chloë Sevigny was an intern!). Plus it opened my eyes to the fact that there could be a magazine that felt like a true representation of girlhood and not a bunch of “how to make boys notice you” b.s. Thank goodness my mom is super chill about storing my childhood stuff, because I still have every issue I ever got my hands on (including the iconic Kurt & Courtney cover from 1992).
2) Discovering BUST in college. I still remember the night I was straightening up the magazine section during my shift at Borders bookstore when I noticed Janeane Garofalo’s face amidst the models and super skinny white bread celebs on every other glossy. (Reality Bites will always be one of my all-time favorite movies.) I remember thinking, Any magazine that puts Janeane Garofalo on the cover is a magazine for me. And boy was I right. I devoured every feministy page and felt like I’d truly found my people. Six years later, with almost zero editing experience, a handful of writing clips, and a fair amount of moxie I managed to convince the BUST powers that be that I belonged on staff. I packed my bags, and moved from San Francisco to New York for my dream job.
3) Moving back to California. When I left New York for L.A., I became a full-time freelancer, which opened up my writing world to a whole new slew of topics and outlets and opportunities. Plus the ability to take mid-day naps, write till sunrise if I’m feeling it, and eat my weight in the most delicious street tacos.
Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?
I was lucky enough to see Bikini Kill open for Sonic Youth in 1995, and watching Kathleen Hanna and Kim Gordon on stage was the beginning of my discovery of feminism through music, the viscerality alone—in every raw gut-punching scream or soul-splitting riff—changed the very fiber of my being. After that, every time I got to see a band like Sleater-Kinney or Le Tigre over the next 10 years, it was like going to church for me.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
Listening: The new Rookie podcast (that Winona Ryder episode!). The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead (really! I recently saw a new—4-hour—documentary on the band and it made me dig up all their old tunes. Plus I’m so in love with young Bob Weir I can barely stand it). The audio version of Stephanie Danler’s novel Sweetbitter, which is satisfying my NYC itch. And, right this very second, my sweet dog Olive who’s snoring on the couch next to me.
Reading: “Read more” is the only New Year’s resolution I make, and so far this year it’s lead me to some incredible books, including Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is next on my list (YA forever!).
Watching: I’m obsessed with The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood’s novel is one of the most chilling books I’ve ever read, and seeing Elisabeth Moss’s genius as the on-screen Offred takes the story to a whole new level. To cleanse the dystopian distaste from my pop culture palate, I binge The Great British Bake-Off, which is basically like the comfort food of television.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
YES, thank Maude!! My entire network is made up of supportive females. Nearly every editor I work with is a woman, and I have so many wonderful female writers in my world, both IRL and online. They give me life.
What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?
My affinity for weird wellness trends. Give me all your crystals/sound baths/aura readings/energy clearings. I’m here for it.
How can we find out more about your work?
Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
Artist Laura Berger. I’m obsessed with her gorgeous, powerful work.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
My newest BUST cover story with the inimitable teen acting and activist phenom Amandla Stenberg hits newsstands at the end of May and I CANNOT wait to share our inspiring conversation. That girl is a dynamo, and gives me so much hope for the future. And the Tidal team is just getting started on our Fall/Winter issue, which always feels like a wonderful blank slate full of possibility. I’m also five months pregnant, incubating a teeny-tiny male feminist—does that count as a project in the pipeline?
What is your dream project?
I’m pretty sure I’ve got a young adult novel lurking deep down in my soul, so I’d love to work on setting it free. In the meantime, getting to tell the stories of awesome women doing amazing things is already a dream so I’ll just continue to relish that.
What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?
I’m allergic to avocados, which is a cruel, cruel joke for the universe to play on a California girl.
If you could choose to hear from any female contemporary at a Make Nice event, who would it be and why?
New Teen Vogue Editor in Chief Elaine Welteroth. She’s taken the outlet from a safe, predictable title to a crucial voice of mobilization and resistance for young women.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
I get asked by younger writers all the time for advice, and I tell them what I then turn around and tell myself: You have to ask for what you want. This is still so difficult for me to do, but it’s amazing what can materialize when you start that ball rolling, rather than waiting for things to happen.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
Pay rates! Sometimes I read about the glory days of journalism when editors had infinite expense accounts and writers could net a grand for a record review and I just want to laugh until I cry, or vice versa. It goes both ways—I want to make more money for the work I do, and I want to pay my writers way more than I’m able.