Updated: 4 days ago
Writer Name: Jan Risher
Location: Lafayette, Louisiana
Years of Experience: 25
Available for writing projects: occasionally
Niche/Beat/Genre: Writes a weekly newspaper column and does business writing
Portfolio website: The Acadiana Advocate
Other website: Jan Risher
Favorite food: green apples with roasted Brussels Sprouts and balsamic/cider glaze OR her husband’s incredible chile rellanos
Writing tip for fellow writers: Read it out loud to someone to edit.
Jan Risher began writing at a young age and always knew she wanted to be a columnist.
Now an award-winning journalist specializing in short-form memoir, she considers herself a writer and advocate for those whose voices are seldom heard.
Over her career, Jan has covered hurricanes along the Gulf, the Iraq War, Louisiana politics and more.
In 2006, Jan won the International Fellowship for Journalism, traveling to Thailand to report on, and compare, Thailand’s recovery from the Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
Since leaving full-time journalism in 2008, Jan has continued freelance writing and writing a weekly column published on Sundays. Her column, titled Long Story Short, is largely about the human condition, the community, food, family, failures and triumphs.
Since 2014, she has owned and managed Shift Key, a content marketing firm that helps organizations tell their stories.
Jan and her husband live on the banks of the Vermilion River in Lafayette, Louisiana. They are parents to two daughters, Greer, 23, and Piper, 19. Jan is also an avid cook and skateboarding champion.
How long have you been writing for the paper and how did it begin?
I've been writing a weekly column since March 2002. I wrote a monthly column in El Paso, Texas, for the El Paso Times (before that, I wrote a weekly column from Slovakia for my hometown paper in Mississippi while I was teaching in Slovakia). Before that, I wrote a weekly column in high school for the county paper.
Now I'm a Sunday columnist for The Acadiana Advocate based in Lafayette, Louisiana, also published in sister papers online.
How is writing a column for the paper different from your other writing?
My column is very different from my other writing. It is personal. My readers have followed me around the world and back to adopt a daughter from China and to take her back to visit in the summer of 2019.
Plus, lots of other travels have been shared in my columns, including India, Scotland, Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Switzerland, France, Italy, England (for William and Kate's wedding — my daughter and I slept on the sidewalk and saw the whole procession), and more.
I've been to 48 countries. My readers have watched both of my children grow up and know many of my favorite recipes. The connection between food, family, travel and community is huge for me. I've written extensively about the intersection of those four things. Here's a recent example, where I share memories of my great grandmother's Bundt cake.
For my other writing, I take a journalistic approach to telling other people's stories for hire. It's just basic reporting. I miss reporting; I love learning other people's stories.
Tell us about your books.
I’ve ghostwritten several business books and wrote Looking to the Stars from Old Algiers as a collection of columns from 2002-2017.
What’s your advice for struggling new writers or bloggers?
Don’t give up your day job yet! Getting a following takes time. Consistency is crucial, even when you’re not sure if anyone is reading it.
What has been your biggest professional struggle over the years?
Monetizing the work.
Any advice for those interested in writing for papers?
My advice for those interested in writing for papers? I'd ask them a series of questions, starting with: What level of masochism appeals to you? Newspapering these days is hard and stressful. The beast still has to be fed every day, and it will eat you up in the process, if you aren't careful. That said, being in a newsroom is a magical place. On the other hand, no one is actually in a newsroom right now. Life is really complicated, isn't it?
What do you have to say to those who believe that newspapers are dead?
The newspaper is dead thing grieves me. I believe to my core that good and decent journalism is the only way democracy will survive. In their arrogance, newspapers made a dreadful mistake in the early years of the internet when they gave all their content away. I can go on and on and on about this. To survive, newspapers will look and behave differently and we are currently in the midst of that transition, which is messy, messy, messy.
How is your relationship with food affected by you being a writer, or vice versa?
Though I write about many things, so much of it comes back to food — and the community of food. I had a cooking radio and television show in El Paso, Texas, back at the start of food TV. However, we moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, and I had never made a roux.
While I knew a lot about food and cooking, I had almost zero local food cred. Even so, I got an assignment to review two to three restaurants a week for the first six months we lived here. Those assignments changed everything!
Think about going to two to three different restaurants in a place you’ve just moved every week for the better part of a year. I believe food builds community. My giant table is my favorite piece of furniture, and the place I’ve grieved during the pandemic, as we have not been able to share meals with others.
Do you have any favorite food/cooking/writing books that you recommend?
I’m a big fan of food memoirs. I like Ruth Reichl’s Save me the Plums. I also love Poilane: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery.
Any favorite kitchen products?
I love a serrated flat-head peeler and a wooden spatula with an angled end.
Favorite food writers or food-related TV shows/movies?
I loved “The 100-foot Journey.” I love the New York Time’s Melissa Clark’s recipes. I like Claire Saffitz, formerly of Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen. The movie “No Reservations” has a soft spot in my heart because one of my daughters loves it so much.
What do you snack on when you’re on deadline?
Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
While not low on calories, this recipe is delicious. Enjoy. White Enchiladas
Ingredients: 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup flour 2 cups chicken broth 8 oz. sour cream 2 jalapenos - chopped about 2 cups chopped chicken or turkey
3/4 cup onion, chopped 10 white corn tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack shredded cheese
Directions: Preheat oven to 425. Melt butter in saucepan on low heat. Add flour. Stir until smooth. Cook one minute, stirring continuously. Gradually add chicken broth. Cook over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbles. Stir in sour cream and peppers. Pour half of sauce in greased 12x9 pan. Set aside rest of sauce. Place chicken, most of onions and cheese in tortillas (reserve some chopped onions to scatter on top with cheese). Roll up and place seam side down in pan. Pour remaining sauce on top. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Sprinkle rest of cheese and onions and bake another five minutes. Serve with rice and beans.
Anything else you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food, or being a writer in general?
While I primarily agree with Lester Bangs’ quote, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” I would amend it as follows: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool — OR when we share a table with others and have one of those other worldly moments because a dish or a meal is just that good, just that perfect.” Those are the moments I seek in this lifetime, and the moments I miss during this pandemic.
Also, I’m teaching a virtual memoir writing class, in which we incorporate food memoir, among the other parts that make up our individual stories. (More details at www.janrisher.com.)