A Passion for Stories: Writer and UMass Alum Nathan Frontiero

by Jonah Dratfield

While students are often told to study what they are passionate about, they are not always taught how to translate their passions into sustainable careers. Writing is a prime example of this phenomenon. Many people dream about being authors or journalists, yet few are able to center careers on their writing. That being said, it is not impossible. Those who are both dedicated to their craft and knowledgeable about the different practical dimensions of their work can turn their passions into professions. Nathan Frontiero, a recent UMass Amherst on-campus graduate and freelance writer who worked at Take Magazine, exemplifies this fact.

Nathan has always been passionate about writing and originally planned to study it, but began his undergraduate years by going in a different direction. “I was interested in storytelling from a young age and I used to like watching the Science Channel and writing science fiction," he says. "But I came into college as a computer science major based on advice to study something practical. I went after that degree, but I took a creative writing class my freshman year and loved it. I was tapping into energies that I knew I couldn’t ignore. After that, I declared English as a secondary major… and eventually switched it to my primary and dropped computer science.”

Before he rearranged his course of study, Nathan began writing for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, UMass Amherst’s independent student-run newspaper. “I started out as a correspondent,” he says. “I wrote movie reviews for the arts section. I had a really great editor who saw my potential and encouraged me, which led me to focus on arts writing in general. I started writing about music and other things in the arts, and also wrote a couple opinion pieces on student politics. I was an assistant arts editor on the film/TV desk for a year and a half, and eventually became the arts section editor. I tried to make sure we had as broad a range of arts coverage as possible.”

In November 2016, as the fall semester of his senior year and his time working for the Collegian were both winding down, Nathan learned about the Arts Extension Service’s Foundations in Arts Entrepreneurship class. “My enrollment in that class started as an attempt to pursue a story for the paper,” he says Nathan. “I was trying to write a feature on the jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez, who composed the score to Birdman and was giving a talk on campus. The story didn’t actually end up coming together, but I still went to this talk. [AES Program Coordinator and Lecturer] Todd Trebour was there representing the Arts Extension Service. We spoke afterward and he told me about the Foundation in Arts Entrepreneurship class. I thought it would give me some focus, because it would help me think about the things I was interested in and how I could turn them into something more tangible. It would at least help me find a way to keep my feet on the ground in my first few years out of college.”

After graduating, Nathan landed a position at Take Magazine through an internship he discovered at the Spring Arts and Humanities Internship Fair. “I was heading toward the end of college and I wanted to get a chance at some off-campus experience in the field I was trying to get into,” says Nathan. “I saw that Take Magazine had a table at the fair. So I tailored my resume for the position and introduced myself to John Arvanitis, the administrative assistant at Take. I spoke with him about my background and interest and gave him my resume. A week later he contacted me offering me the internship.”

While Nathan’s involvement began as an internship, it soon morphed into a larger role at the publication. “I started as an editorial intern,” says Nathan. “In that capacity, I was doing support work for the magazine, including a lot of research and communicating with arts organizations. My work contacting New England publishers, for example, helped the staff get a story about a book on the mail art movement into the print magazine.” Nathan’s internship also gave him a big opportunity to write about many people in the art world and broader creative economy. He profiled a glassblower who makes luxury bongs, an absurdist fiction writer, a theater artist and filmmaker, and even a Massachusetts state senator who serves as a political consultant on Veep.

At the end of the internship, Nathan spoke with Arvanitis and Stacey Kors, the editor-in-chief of Take, about continuing his work into the summer. The staff wanted to keep him onboard, so his responsibilities evolved from an internship into paid freelance work that included contributing to the magazine in addition to copywriting for its website. “I wrote several short briefs about events happening around the region every week. On top of that, I profiled artists for the magazine. My work was an evolution of what I was doing during the internship.”

Nathan wrote over 20 profiles and dozens of event posts for Take’s web edition, and also landed a byline in the last February/March issue of the print magazine. His favorite piece was a profile he published in July on Diana Cherbuliez, a Vinalhaven, Maine-based sculptor with incredible skill and a killer sense of humor. “Putting that piece together was a passion project,” says Nathan. “I was enamored with what she did and who she was. When I sent the final published article to her she was really enthused with the writing. That showed me what I could do with this this type of journalism. I saw how much I could celebrate people making culture happen in the region.”

Reflecting on his work experience and college career, Nathan advises students to not be afraid to drop a class they don’t like in order to study what they’re passionate about. He also has advice for aspiring writers. “If you are trying to write you need to read a lot and write a lot in a variety of styles and genres," says Nathan. "You’re always telling a story some way. All those different modes of reading and writing inform each other.”

Nathan has certainly followed his own advice. With dedication and perseverance, he has turned his lifelong passion for writing into a budding career as an arts and culture journalist. He has maintained an open mind and allowed his love for storytelling to flourish. Where he will go next, though, is a story that even he can’t tell. 

Artwork credit: Diana Cherbuliez, Cul-de-sac, 2017 (detail) | spruce, scrap walnut, masonite, tung oil, foam, broadcloth, chicken down, cotton | 10 ½ x 5 ¾ x 16 in. | Courtesy of the artist and Grant Wahlquist Gallery