For the past year, executive editor Kathy Blackwell has deftly guided our coverage of two industries in crisis: travel and dining. She and her team have chronicled the pain and destruction that COVID-19 has wreaked on the employees and owners of Texas’s hospitality companies—as well as the innovative ways those businesses have found to safely serve their customers.
Kathy and company have mirrored that creativity in their journalism. They’ve focused much of Texas Monthly’s food writing on the tastiest takeout dishes, including in our statewide survey of the best new restaurants in the March issue. And they’ve highlighted some of the most appealing, COVID-safe, outdoor-oriented getaways within reasonable driving distance, including in this month’s cover package on road trips to our neighboring states. “This is how lots of Texans want to travel right now,” Kathy said. “So we wanted to give them some specific ideas and some inspiration.”
Kathy joined Texas Monthly in 2017, after serving for three years as editor in chief of Austin Way, a lifestyle magazine. Before that, she worked for fourteen years at the Austin American-Statesman, rising to become its senior editor for features. Though she’s a native of South Carolina and returns there regularly to visit relatives and friends, Kathy has become a proud Texan and an expert on our state’s restaurants, hotels, resorts, outdoor activities, and fashion. Hers is a huge portfolio, which, in this issue, required that she edit not only our cover package but also our Made in Texas column, about a custom furniture maker in Wimberley, and a charming essay by an author who researched her latest novel by getting personal with the Asian elephants of the Houston Zoo.
To bolster our print and web coverage of her subject areas, Kathy gets excellent help from associate editor Rose Cahalan and contract editor Leah Prinzivalli. Kathy’s expert staff writers include executive editor Patricia Sharpe, who is our fine-dining critic, barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, and taco editor José R. Ralat, and she has recruited a roster of talented freelancers with various specialties. Among that last group, Stephanie Noll, a writer with strong Texas ties who now lives in Chamisal, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, was especially valuable for this issue, as that state had, at the time, imposed a two-week quarantine on visitors that would have hamstrung a writer arriving from Texas. Freelancers Pam LeBlanc and Amanda Eyre Ward were also already familiar with the states they visited for this package.
Daniel, taking a break from his barbecue duties, volunteered to visit the Wichita Mountains, in Oklahoma, hoping he might get some time away from his beloved family—and give them some time away from him—after months penned up together at their home, in Dallas. But then his kids heard him planning the excursion and begged him to include them. Daniel’s wife, Jennifer (an Oklahoma native), got the last laugh—and some much-needed solitude.
As if dealing with COVID-19 restrictions wasn’t difficult enough, Kathy and her team also had to navigate the arctic snowstorm that slammed into Texas and its neighbors in February and shut down our state’s poorly managed power grid. (See Jonathan Tilove’s story on the legal fallout from that catastrophe.) Some of the roads that our writers traversed were treacherous. The Arkansas cabin that freelancer Mary Beth Gahan and her family had booked in the Ozarks was snowed in and inaccessible. Because of these obstacles, stories arrived later than we had hoped but still were carefully fact-checked and copyedited, thanks to long hours of diligent work by assistant editors Amy Weaver Dorning, Alicia Maria Meier, Doyin Oyeniyi, and Sarah Rutledge.
“Working on this package reminded me of all the places my family and I have yet to explore,” Kathy said. “And the beauty of road trips is that you can bring the dog too.” We’re going to help her find some time for that, and we hope you can do the same for yourself.