World of Words: On assignment with Luke Dittrich

If you’ve flipped through a copy of Esquire Magazine in the past four years, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ve read a story by Whitehorse writer Luke Dittrich. And there’s a 40 percent chance you’re a woman.

Although Equire is primarily a men’s interest magazine, Dittrich says, “Pretty much everything I write for them is unisex.” Personally, he never approaches a story thinking he’s writing only for men.

“I think that what makes it a men’s magazine is that it usually contains one male-oriented fashion spread and one photo-spread featuring a young actress without many clothes on,” he adds, “Plus, occasionally, cars.”

The magazine’s main features are meant to appeal to a diverse, well-educated audience. Dittrich has written profiles of Usain Bolt, Matt Damon and Todd Palin, and features about such varied topics as American assassins on the Mexican border and NBC’s To Catch a Predator series.

During the research phase of his writing Dittrich immerses himself in his subject. That’s followed by 60 to 90 days per year on the road.

“I do most of my reporting Outside and most of my writing here,” he says. “If I’m not at home, I’m writing at the Starbucks in the Walmart strip mall.”

Dittrich started writing while living on a houseboat in Cairo.

“One afternoon, while out for a row, I found a dead body floating down the river. I wrote a short account of the experience, and submitted it to a local English-language newspaper. They rejected it, but I kept writing and submitting stories and eventually publications started accepting them.”

His key: “You find a story you like, you write it, get it to an editor, and then you hope that he or she likes it, too. Rinse, repeat.”

From Egypt, Dittrich moved to Savannah, Georgia, then Atlanta, and finally the Yukon. He’s written for Egypt Today and Atlanta magazine.

“In 2004, I won some awards and an editor at Esquire noticed. He called me up one day, asking if I had any story ideas I’d like to pitch. I did.”

As contributing editor, Dittrich writes almost exclusively for Esquire. His article “The Brain That Changed Everything” in the October 2010 issue will be reprinted in the upcoming edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing.

The great thing about Esquire, Dittrich says, is “there is no standard ‘Esquire story’. Take a look at the writers the magazine has worked with over the years: Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, Tom Junod, David Sedaris, Norman Mailer, Dorothy Parker, Chris Jones. You could break your brain trying to find a common thread that connects them all.”

What does unify them, and Dittrich, is high quality writing about contemporary subjects. Dittrich plans to spend the next year writing his first book, for Random House, based upon the brain article, while still filing features with Esquire.

To read his latest story from the September 22 issue, search Joplin-tornado-stories at

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