Former Review columnist, Houston Chronicle editor named Pulitzer finalist

Evan Mintz (04) displays his cartoon in a 2003 issue of the Review.

Jake Nyquist

Evan Mintz (’04) displays his cartoon in a 2003 issue of the Review.

Former Review writer Evan Mintz (’04) was recently named a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Editorial Writing. 

Mintz was accustomed to writing about controversial issues during his time as a writer and a cartoonist on the Review. He pursued his interest in journalism by writing for the Thresher, the Rice student newspaper, and the student newspaper at Yeshiva University, where he attended law school. Mintz is now on the editorial board of the opinions section of the Houston Chronicle, where he started working full-time in 2012. He and another Chronicle writer, Joe Holley, earned the Pulitzer Finalist for their series of editorials on gun violence. The following article is a reprint from the January 2014 print issue of the Review.

Evan Mintz (’04) had no trouble pinpointing the moment he lost his position as opinions editor for The Review.

“I was angry about something,” Mintz said, “and I threatened to throw a chair. I think we realized then that I was not temperamentally suited for that editorial position.”

Mintz, then a senior, was instead made the satire editor and tasked with spearheading the annual satire issue.

“I did that job almost entirely single-handedly. The other editors just didn’t have a feel for [writing satire],” Mintz said. “That issue mostly made fun of the mascot change and other campus happenings.”

Hot-button topics were nothing new to Mintz, who joined the Review as a cartoonist in his junior year.

“Besides making fun of George W. Bush, my artwork had some really weird, avant-garde stuff,” Mintz said. “I tried to express a lot of obscure symbolism in my cartoons. It was fun seeing everyone confused about my work.”

Mintz also continued to court controversy with his writing.

“One of my biggest hits during my time at The Review was a column I wrote discussing chapel,” Mintz said. “I basically outlined all the reasons we didn’t need it.”

Kathryn van der Pol, the Review adviser during Mintz’s tenure on the newspaper, defends the article as a legitimate expression of his opinion.

“Chapel was not popular among a certain segment of the student body. The publication of ‘Chapel’s Religious Nature is Inherently Wrong’ triggered a firestorm, not the least of which were attacks on the paper itself, the judgment of the adviser and threats of future censorship,” van der Pol said. “My belief is that the answer to speech you disagree with is always more speech, never censorship. Opinions are meant to stimulate discussion or to reflect minority views that have the right to be said and heard.”

Mintz even received death threats from the community because of the opinions in his article. But controversial ideas were not out of character for Mintz, as classmate and fellow cartoonist Matt Dunn (’04) recalled.

“[Mintz] has always had strong opinions,” Dunn said. “But I think The Review presented him with his first real opportunity to have a voice, to be heard and to evoke a reaction with what he had to say. The Review was his outlet.”

The answer to speech you disagree with is always more speech, never censorship. Opinions are meant to stimulate discussion or to reflect minority views that have the right to be said and heard.

Mintz did not always have a strong interest in the liberal arts. His interest in politics was not piqued until George W. Bush’s contested victory in the 2000 election. He began to shift away from his middle school strengths of math and science.

“Up until then, I thought of myself as some sort of science nerd,” Mintz said. “In high school, I had to realize that I could direct my focus elsewhere. I took the hardest history courses, along with philosophy and Latin.”

Mintz received encouragement from parents, friends and teachers to become involved in The Review, adding another activity to his list of extracurriculars, which already included Quiz Bowl and the Junior States of America.

“I loved JSA because I could take a stance and argue it,” Mintz said. “That was what I did best.”

Writing for The Review allowed Mintz to learn about the method behind the argument.

“The Review encouraged him to work a lot harder at forming, clarifying and publishing his views,” Dunn said. “The repetition of writing well and thinking analytically, the incremental honing of skills and perspectives — good habits built on good practice.”

Mintz continued to pursue journalism at Rice University, where he majored in history and wrote for The Rice Thresher, the student newspaper.

“Rice had no journalism major, but I still spent the majority of my time in the Thresher offices,” Mintz said.

Mintz managed to inspire controversy in his first week when he wrote a piece criticizing campus religious groups for aggressive self-promotion.

“I thought it was inappropriate,” Mintz said. “People were trying to get settled in for the first time; students didn’t need anyone in their face trying to convert them to a religion.”

Mintz was named opinions editor during his freshman year at Rice, and he was promoted to back-page editor the following year. By the time he was a senior, he had been elected by the Thresher staff to the position of executive editor.

After graduating from Rice, Mintz attended Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law in New York City. There, Mintz wrote for the student newspaper as well.

“My opinion pieces elicited the response of the law school dean,” Mintz said. “I also continued to write on my blog, with pieces about Rice University selling KTRU that resulted in the university president’s wife calling my mom.”

Mintz first encountered the Houston Chronicle when the paper cited a passage from his blog, which described a Facebook conversation between him and a friend about James Franco.

“This friend was angry that I had even posted our talk on the internet,” Mintz said. “I posted a screenshot of a public Facebook wall, so it didn’t occur to me that putting that in another place would be so distressing.”

What appeared to be a one-time coincidence led Mintz to his current position as editorial writer for the Houston Chronicle.

Outside of the newsroom, Mintz reads many print and online publications to keep aware of current events.

“I read the New York Times, The Chronicle and local blogs such as Big Jolly Politics and Swamplot,” Mintz said. “For pop culture stories, I read sites like Jezebel. I do need to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal because their paywall actually works.”

Junior Emery Mintz admires his brother’s career choice.

“Even after law school, [Evan] still pursued his true passion of writing,” Emery said. “It’s something that’s really respectable and inspiring.”

Journalism has taught Mintz important life lessons.

“When I think back, I see that I definitely learned something in the whole process of journalism,” Mintz said. “I learned how to stand on my own two feet, to push the boundaries and to speak up for myself.”

Visit the Houston Chronicle here to read Mintz’s editorial piece on offensive school mascots in the Houston Independent School District.

Visit the Pulitzer website here to read Mintz and Holley’s editorials.