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Sometimes There's a Girl

Interviewing Rookie's Tavi Gevinson

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TAVI GEVINSON IS THE GIRL for her time and place.

She caught the public's eye at age 12, for her widely read fashion blog Style Rookie. At 15, she founded the online magazine Rookie, aimed at teenaged girls; it's a compelling and whip-smart mix of personal essays, interviews, and advice, all with a sneaky feminist throughline. And she recently co-starred in Enough Said, alongside James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus; her performance was, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite impressive.

Rookie Magazine is an apparently effortless synthesis of cultural influences new and old, equally likely to name check Stevie Nicks as Lorde. It's anthropologically fascinating, a window into what the youths are thinking about, and it's also very good—Rookie's interviews are particularly strong, with the likes of Morrissey, Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham, and Judy goddamn Blume. The second Rookie print collection was just released; we spoke with Tavi over the phone in advance of her book tour.

Rookie's interviews are great. Has being interviewed yourself changed how you approach conducting interviews?

Both positions have made me more sympathetic to the other position. When I was younger, I think I felt more generally misunderstood, before people really caught on to Rookie, and so I had a very combative attitude when I was being interviewed. But [eventually] people's questions got better, and I probably grew up a bit. And then as the interviewer, I think I'm just sympathetic to the interviewee in terms of what questions are asked. Like when I'm writing my questions, if there's something that I can answer myself, where I'm pretty sure I know what their standard answer will be, then I won't ask it. For example, I was in the movie Enough Said, and so everyone asks, "Were you sad when James Gandolfini died?" And it's like... yeah! That's a sad thing! If the questions feel really obvious or tedious, I avoid them. Like I just interviewed Lorde...

How was she to talk to?

She's great, she's very much 16 and shy and awkward, but also, not to sound condescending, so mature. You could be like, "This girl is 30," and I wouldn't think twice about it. With her, I couldn't be like, "What do your friends think?" and everything. But I found myself wondering that, and I became more sympathetic to people who ask me "Do you feel 16?" that sort of stuff.

Rookie has a really conversational tone—it does feel like you're talking to a friend. But your life is relatively exceptional, compared to your readers. Do you worry about staying relatable?

I have thought about that. I realized that Lorde's music is the only teen-thing I can listen to or watch where there isn't a tiny voice in the back of my head being like, "What are you talking about? Your life is so different! You get to travel, you have older friends, you get to work, you do all this stuff, you can't identify with these feelings about boredom and angst." [It's like I] have to negotiate that I can still feel boredom, I can still feel angst, I still have a right to those feelings even though I am fortunate enough to have this other life. But Lorde's music is like the only thing where I don't have to do that, because she is in a much more extreme but a similar situation as me. She feels relatable and accessible not because she's like, "I'm a pop star, but I still sing about the suburbs," but because she's like, "I'm a pop star who's from the suburbs, this is a weird experience but I'm going to be honest about it." So for me, I'm aware that the fact that my life is quite different from many of our readers can be an isolating factor, but A) there's no way around it unless I wanted Rookie to be read by no one, and B) I feel like the most relatable thing is to just talk about how that's weird, and to be honest about it... You know when an actress is like, "I go to school, I'm totally normal," and it's like, "but your life is crazy!" I guess maybe for a long time people felt like maybe the relatable thing was to be like "no, no, I'm normal." But I mean, to me, I find Lorde very captivating because she talks about that experience honestly, and how strange it is.

I wrote an article for Rookie that probably comes up the most when girls talk to me at our events, called "How to Not Care What Other People Think of You." That applies to high school, but it also applies to the somewhat more public life that I've had. So I also think there are parallels.

You made Rookie for girls. Does it surprise you that adults read it?

I knew there would be some adult girls reading it. But to me it's evidence that teenagers aren't these different creatures that need to be pandered to or talked down to. Freaks and Geeks was made for adults. It was supposed to be a show about high school for adults, and teenagers love it. The way to get through to younger people isn't to speak in internet lingo; it's just treating them like normal people. We rarely hear an adult say, "Rookie makes me so nostalgic." We more hear, "This is stuff I still deal with." Maybe teenagers are caricatures of real people, just because you feel everything in such extremes, and you feel it for the first time. So you write about these extremes, and they apply to teenagers, but those feelings carry on over into the rest of your life.

Can you talk about putting together the print collection?

I like creating these little worlds. I like that it can feel like a different book every 30 or so pages, because each month has a different theme. It does feel really homemade, you could say it feels nostalgic. We do have a lot of clippings from old magazines and stuff. I just wanted it to be really detailed. I didn't want it to be like a lot of blogs or websites, how when they make a book, they kind of just copy and paste. I wanted it to feel like its own thing and I wanted to really give people their money's worth. In order to make each month and each theme feel like its own little world, there was a lot of detailed collaging involved. And that probably does come across as zinelike, and that's ok, because that's how the book should feel... it's supposed to be different from looking at a computer.

Do you distinguish between a public persona and private persona, in terms of what you put into Rookie? Do you think of it that way, or is it all just one Tavi package?

It's all just one thing. I would probably be protecting myself more if there was some difference, but it's not like I'm some pop star or performance artist. It would be really stupid and annoying if I had like, a persona. I don't want to share everything, I have to keep some things for myself, and I don't think everyone is interested in me oversharing... but I don't really separate the two that much. I go to our events, and that would be really anxiety inducing, if it was like "Hey, gotta go put on this face, gotta go meet these girls." It's really easier to just be relaxed and be honest. That's an important part of Rookie, I think... not having to worry about, will I be accepted? Do I have to change myself? Things like that.

One of the things I like about Rookie is that while it has a very feminist underpinning, but it's almost... I don't want to say "incidental," but not every article is about women's rights.

I'm glad that you say that. I live in a very progressive, tolerant suburb of Chicago, and I think with the stuff that I read online, I am kind of in a bubble of like... I don't have to explain to anyone that being a feminist means I don't hate men, in the bubble I'm in. But we do want to reach a wider audience, and we hope that girls can benefit from whatever we have to offer, even if they're not, like, planning to major in gender studies. You don't want to water it down so it's not there, but it doesn't have to be so overt.

Do you feel pressure to pick one thing and stick to it? If you never wanted to act again, say, would that be okay?

It would be okay. And I do want to act again, but right now I kind of just want to collect experiences... [Earlier today] I did an interview where the woman was asking me entirely questions about blogging, and I was like, I just published my second book, can we talk about that? I think sometimes I have to be patient, but I do feel like I've generally been given room and time to change, not just from my support system, but also the people who read Rookie. One of the things we talk about is changing and evolving, and I think that as long as it is for genuinely non-evil reasons, our readers support me evolving and Rookie evolving.

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