Claudia Glenn Dowling wears her dirty blonde hair very long, straight, and parted in the middle, which
is reminiscent of her days as a hippy. She stands in front of a classroom of young, aspiring journalists and tells them her story on how she became a feature writer and the highlight of her career; her climb up Mount Everest.
As a feature writer, Dowling has wrote for Discover magazine, Life magazine, People magazine, and The New York Times. She climbed 24,000 feet up Mount Everest for one of her stories for Life magazine in addition to the many emotional, real life stories she has done throughout her career.
Dowling was born on December 13th 1950 in Ann Arbor, MI. Her father was a herpetologist and her mother was a Spanish teacher. Dowling is the oldest of four, she has two younger brothers and a younger sister. One brother is a musician, the other is a set carpenter for the movies, and her sister is a graphic designer. Dowling's path to becoming a feature writer may not seem typical.
After graduating from Vassar College with a major in Chinese in 1972, Dowling had no idea what to do with her life, so she moved to Hawaii and lived on the beach selling muumuus and growing cabbages. "After doing that for about a year, I decided I wanted to do the exact opposite, so I thought what would that be and then I thought, well I'll move to New York City," says Dowling.
When Dowling arrived in New York City in 1973, she began looking for a job. Time Inc. offered her a job as a coffee girl for their start up magazine called People. After delivering coffee and ordering sandwiches for a little while, Dowling began copy-reading and helped get the magazine ready to print. She was there for the launch of the very first issue.
She soon became tired of copy reading and moved to Springfield, Il to start up a newspaper with her boyfriend and another couple. Dowling was the main political reporter, but worked their until she broke up with the boyfriend and then moved back to New York City.
At that time she went to work for a women's sport magazine that was started by Billy Jean King and then went back to People as a movie critic and movie writer. After that she had a baby girl and went to work for Life part time. It was at Life that she learned how to write a deeply emotional story in which she credits the photographers she worked with for teaching her. "I knew how to write a newspaper kind of story, but I didn't know how to write a deeply emotional story until I learned how to approach people slowly and delicately, like the documentary photographers I worked with did it," says Dowling.
Dowling spent four days with a woman dying of a special kind of Leukemia for a story for People magazine. She sat with the woman all day every day until the woman went to sleep. Dowling thinks that her and the photographer made nuisances out of themselves, but says how cooperative the dying woman was."She was willing to take these important four days out of her life to tell her story to the world," Dowling says about the woman. She continued to say that writing emotional and personal stories is extremely difficult because it is hard to separate natural human feelings from work.
"She [Dowling] is one of the best writers I've ever met, a very experienced and accomplished journalist," says Elaine Rivera a colleague of Dowling's from Time, Inc. and a professor at Lehman College.
The highlight of Dowling's career was climbing 24,000 feet up Mount Everest for a feature story for Life magazine; Dowling was the only woman among 24 men and she has always been terrified of heights. The men had to talk her through it because she did not think she was going to make it. The cold was so extreme that her watch and pen would freeze during the night. The purpose of the story was to find out why people actually attempt to climb this mountain. During her hike to the top she witnessed a solo climber die through binoculars.“We watched him go into his tent and he never came out,” Dowling said.
Today, Dowling lives on the Upper West Side in New York City and freelances a little, as well as writes feature stories for a small magazine called American History. She also rents two houses in Block Island, RI, where she also ran a surf shop called “Claudia's Surf City”. She has also recently moved out to the Ozarc mountains in Missouri near the Arkansas boarder.
“The world is filled with fabulous stories, I mean everyone of you has one. My experience is that if you sit down with someone long enough, everybody has a subject in which they are utterly fascinating, you just have to find it,” says Dowling.