Julie Scelfo is a former staff writer/current contributor to The New York Times, where her stories about society and human behavior reframe popular ideas and ask us to rethink our basic assumptions. She has written about transgender pronouns; the intersection of campus suicides with social media and perfectionism; the human health risks from synthetic chemicals in consumer products; homelessness; and how the collapse of Lehman Brothers led to “trickle-down home economics”—thousands of domestics and other low-wage laborers losing their jobs.
Previously, Scelfo was a Correspondent at Newsweek where she covered breaking news and wrote about contemporary American society. She covered the events of September 11, 2001, live from lower Manhattan, and then reported extensively on the attack’s environmental and emotional aftermath; she also uncovered documents showing that prisoners at Abu Ghraib tortured by American military police weren’t suspected terrorists but civilians accused of petty crimes, and published the first-ever interview with Dr. Anna Pou in which the New Orleans surgeon acknowledged administering fatal doses of morphine to patients at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina.
Prior to joining Newsweek Scelfo was a staff writer at the now-defunct media watchdog magazine Brill’s Content, where her journalism career began after a brief stint at the Fire Island News.
Before becoming a journalist, Scelfo worked for a consulting firm, waited tables, hawked t-shirts, boxed pastries, and moonlighted as a paralegal and bartender.
Scelfo attended Barnard College, where she designed her own major in Political Communications, and New York University, where she earned a Master’s degree in Media Ecology. One highlight of her time at NYU was working as an assistant to the author and cultural critic Neil Postman, who wrote this important observation: “A metaphor is not an ornament. It is an organ of perception.” In 2017 she received NYU's Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award.
Scelfo’s first book, The Women Who Made New York, (Seal Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, a Hachette Book Group company) describes the long history of female trailblazers, artists and activists who not only made New York City the cultural epicenter of the world but shaped many of the ideas and social justice movements that fuel American society today.
She recently researched and generated a plan for The Sahadi’s Cookbook, which captures the flavor and history of NYC’s oldest specialty food store, now operated by a fourth generation member of the Sahadi family.
Scelfo has contributed to The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture and several editions of Time Out New York's Eating & Drinking Guide. Her work has also appeared in Salon, O, The Oprah Magazine, Epicurious, Time Out New York and on Literary Hub.
Scelfo lives with her family in New York City, where she rides a push-scooter to ease travel back and forth between neighborhoods. She is a member of PEN America, a supporter of Narrative 4, and believes radical empathy is where it’s at.
Photo credit: Johannes Kroemer