“Letters to My Mother”
with Laura Pitcher
Laura Pitcher is a writer, copywriter and designer from Christchurch who is now based in New York City. Last year, she wrote a thesis on Minority reporting, focusing on Māori reporting in the New Zealand media. Recently, Laura shared some of her poems with me from a collection she titled “Letters to My Mother”, these opened up the opportunity for Laura and I to talk; about being white, being a woman, being beautiful and being a writer.
When did you get in to writing? How did it all begin?
I started as a design intern at a local publication in Wellington, Capital Magazine. There, I fell in love with the world of publishing and was eager to learn all aspects of it. I began helping on some editorial planning and started writing briefs and smaller pieces. I worked there while at University for two years and then became the editorial assistant at the beginning of last year. I was just really lucky to work at a place that gave me so many opportunities. They have an incredible editor, art director and team who allowed me to discover what I was passionate about, and it happened to be journalism.
What have been some of your favourite pieces and why?
My favourite piece of all time would have to be my latest piece for i-D US on Rombaut, a sustainable footwear label with a cowboy boot-sneaker hybrid. But I think maybe my favourite piece is always the last one I’ve worked on. I talk for hours with the people I’m interviewing and get very involved. Some other highlights would be my feature on New Zealand’s methamphetamine issue for Capital Magazine, talking to InsideOut about homophobia for VICE, interviewing the musician Mzwètwo about travelling to the US as a black man and every piece I have worked on with Chev Hassett, an amazingly talented Māori photographer.
Why did you choose to focus your thesis on minority reporting in NZ?
I am fascinated with the media’s ability to perpetuate and reinforce ideas. I’ve also always been drawn to reporting on social justice issues, because that’s what I am passionate about. The fact that only 5% of daily New Zealand mainstream news coverage is on Māori issues, and that a large portion of that is either crime of sports news, is not okay. Statistics like this inspired me to look into not only the cause of this misrepresentation and underrepresentation, but also what steps we need to take to achieve bicultural news coverage.
When did you decide to branch out and move to New York?
Moving to New York has been in the back of my mind ever since I was a teenager watching too much Gossip Girl and Sex in the City. I’d never been to New York before I moved here, so I was really just moving for the idea of New York, and the experience. I can already say that the reality of being here has far surpassed the idea of it. I love this city.
In your poem “pretty” you highlight the assumptions people make about you based on your appearance. Can you talk about that?
I wrote this poem in my phone notes on the subway in my first week in New York. I had become super frustrated with men telling me that I’m sure to get a job here because I’ve got the “right look” for it. I had maybe three people tell me that in one week. I know they thought they were complimenting me, but really it diminished my experience and knowledge. I don’t see how there is such thing as a “right look” for a job where you literally sit behind a screen and work with words all day.
How have you managed to get people to take your work seriously as a woman in the industry who represents mainstream beauty?
I think this is something that all woman struggle with in any industry. People make assumptions whether you are “too pretty” or “not pretty enough”, care too much about your appearance or care too little. As a woman, there’s no winning. That’s why you have to look and dress exactly how you want, know your worth and take yourself really seriously, even when others don’t. I’ve always worked with amazing female editors who inspire me to do just that.
As a white woman, how do you see yourself in relation to the LGBTQI+ and race issues that you love to write about?
Being a white, *cisgender female means I have undeniable privilege in both my work and life. Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that the media industry has a huge need for more diversity. We need more women of colour and trans women in editor and senior level positions. As well as this, there also needs to be an overall push to give minority issues fair and accurate coverage. I see myself as having a huge responsibility when it comes to selecting my stories, sources and images. In order for the media industry to be more balanced and inclusive, I think all writers need to be constantly checking and challenging themselves.
When you left high school, how did the world look to you?
I was severely unmotivated in high school. I found the work easy so I just stopped going to class. I almost didn’t get my university application in on time and I never applied to halls. I honestly have no idea what I was up to. It wasn’t until I left high school, moved to Wellington, started studying design and ended a very negative relationship that I discovered who I wanted to be and who I wanted to surround myself with. Before then, the world looked small and limited. Now, it looks limitless.
What inspired your collection of poems, “Letters to my mother”?
I’ve written poems for as long as I can remember, but after moving to New York I noticed I was writing about a similar theme. Being further away from my family made me think more about womanhood and about the milestones my Mum went through in her life. My Grandmother moved from Ireland to England, my Mum from England to Turkey to New Zealand and now, I’ve moved also. This made me feel very connected to the women before me and inspired a collection, which is still a work in progress, about being young, being in love, being a woman and trying to find your place in the world.
What would 18-year-old Laura say if she could see the life you are living now?
I think 18-year-old me would be surprised but excited about what I’m up to now. I think she’d definitely be happy about the work I’m doing but more so about how comfortable I am with myself now and with all the amazing people I have surrounding me. I hope in another five years I can be in a place that would surprise me currently.
Is there any advice you would have given to that younger self?
“A heavy side-fringe is not cute on you”, or “please dye your eyebrows, they are literally transparent”. Honestly, she needed all the advice she could get. But in all seriousness, probably just to be kinder to herself. I think that’s advice all woman need to remember and it’s something I still need to remind myself daily.
*Cisgender: a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.
If you want to read some of Laura’s amazing work head on over to her website: http://laurapitcher.com/