Interviews / Journalists

Interview with Cinnamon Janzer: “My years have more of a routine to them than my days do.”

Cinnamon Janzer is a Minneapolis-based journalist who covers lesser-told stories from across Middle America and beyond. She also reports nationally and internationally, writing about everything from economic diversification in Appalachia to the surf economy in Central America.

She has been published in a number of outlets including Al Jazeera, The Guardian, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, Eater, The Columbia Journalism Review, New York magazine, The Atlantic’s CityLab, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Civil Eats, Sierra Magazine, Audubon Magazine,, Fast Company, Fodor’s Travel, AFAR, Next City, The Minnesota Reformer, Artful Living, and more.

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Hi Cinnamon, welcome to Famous Writing Routines, great to have you here with us today! I love your focus on covering lesser-told stories from across Middle America and beyond. Can you tell us about a story that you’re particularly proud of covering? 

Thanks so much for including me, I’m honored. I wrote a long form story about the island where my father in law used to live. It’s a little-known spot off the coast of Tacoma in Washington state called Ketron Island. The Curious Case of Ketron Island published earlier this month after more than a year of planning and reporting. It feels so great to see it out in the world for a few reasons.

First, it’s the longest story I’ve ever written or reported. Mostly, though, I’m proud of it because it’s so near and dear to me. My father in law died and it’s part homage to him, part homage to a rare kind of place, part homage to a rapidly disappearing way of life. It went over well with the island residents I interviewed, who were fairly skeptical to begin with, so that means a lot.

In your article “In Barcelona, Kids Bike to School in Large, Choreographed Herds”, you write about the bicibús movement in Barcelona. What was it like to report on this story and what do you think makes it so compelling? 

This story was an assignment for an editor I’ve worked with at other publications. It was a fun challenge to report in Spanish (I don’t speak Catalan and my interviewees don’t speak much English). Mostly, though, it’s always a joy to report on stories about people just doing good things, the right thing, in and for the communities where they live.

The movement came about fairly organically and met a true need. The beauty of it is that it shows how easily something like bicibús can be replicated elsewhere, how we can all use cars less and, particularly, how we can make using cars less a normal experience for younger generations who will inherit the planet.

You’ve covered a variety of stories, from tracing the efforts to create a Dark Sky Reserve to covering the opening of an award-winning restaurant. How do you decide which stories you want to cover, and what do you look for when choosing a story to write about? 

I think a lot of what I write about is simply stuff that I think deserves more attention than it gets (hence Middle America in a very east coast, Ivy-league centric media landscape). People like Bill Wren and their stories are so inspiring to me because it’s the result of just doing the next best thing, then the next, then the next over and over again rather than someone with a grand vision or goal that they’ve myopically focused on because I don’t think life is often like that.

With Owamni, it’s just such an accomplishment—from food truck to best new restaurant—and such a compelling mission to decolonize food—the approach is inherently healthier, more sustainable, and more ethical than the ways the western world works.

I understand that you’re originally from North Dakota. How do you think your background and experiences have influenced your writing and reporting, and what do you think makes your work unique in comparison to other journalists and writers in your field? 

Growing up in North Dakota was critical to who I am as a person and a writer. I grew up in a state that is very much under-considered and sort of solitary in many ways. It felt very much fringe and othered, so those sentiments from marginalized communities make a lot of sense to me. But North Dakota also has the only state-owned bank in the U.S. that explicitly does not compete with the many small town credit unions and local banks that dot the state. Seems pretty socialist to me.

North Dakota is always described as a “deep red” state, but that really only holds up a) on the federal level and b) recently. What drives me are these misconceptions and what’s missed when we adhere to them. So, I think coming from a small place that’s often left behind, that’s filled with people who are far from the target audience of the New Yorker, has given me a reverence for everything that takes place outside of the mainstream. Ultimately, I think it’s this perspective that makes me unique from other journalists and writers.

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Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you? 

I don’t have terribly typical days, which is one of the reasons I love being self-employed. There’s a flexibility to my daily life that I adore. That said, I’m most focused in the mornings. So if I have important writing to do, I wake up, make coffee, and get to work first thing.

If I really need to concentrate, I work from a local coffee shop (thank you Sister Sludge!) so that I can avoid being interrupted by Gus, our dog, wanting to go in and out a million times each day lol. I have a playlist of songs that don’t have any lyrics, which I find most conducive to writing. My energy tends to fade quickly once the early afternoon hits, so I use that time to send emails, run errands, and take the dog to the dog park.

If I have more work to do after that, I’ll usually start again around 5pm. My years have more of a routine to them than my days do, though. My partner and I live in Minneapolis but spend January – April in Mexico each year, splitting our time between Mexico City and the beach. Here, which is where I am now, my routine is different.

When we’re at the beach, I surf in the mornings, get a smoothie, and get to work in the late morning while the heat of the day passes. Then we end most days at the beach, watching the sunset and Gus dig big holes in the sand.

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be? 

It would 100% be Rebecca Solnit simply because I admire her work and her thinking so much.

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads? 

I recently finished a couple books (I find I have a lot more leisure time in Mexico for reading and such, which is why this place is so creatively important and rejuvenating for me). My Government Means To Kill Me by Rasheed Newson was not only a compelling story, but brimming with facts in the form of footnotes!

I learned so much, loved the way the chapters were divided by lessons the protagonist learned, and adored the way he talks about the origins of social justice movements. I also read French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France. It’s a book that’s just as charming as its title.

What does your current writing workspace look like? 

In Mexico, my workspaces are often open-air and plant filled. Today I’m working from a nearby coffee shop while waiting for a plate of chilaquiles to arrive.

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