I pulled a Bond on Aliya S. King’s blog yesterday. A 500 word response to her post. Ha! If you haven’t heard, VIBE magazine folded yesterday.
I’m not distraught, but I do feel an extraordinary sadness like a person died.
This is the revised version of what I posted.
ASK: Thanks for giving me a space to vent.
My first magazine byline was at VIBE. I was the music department intern under Shani Saxon*. When she and her assistant Jasmine Perez didn’t have me calling labels to FAX over the album release schedules (yes, fax, that’s how long ago it was), they lent me out to Emil Wilbekin’s assistant Eunice Liriano. She would always have me send out the new issues to the contributors and important industry folks. That’s how I learned the names of the who’s who in The Industry (that and answering Emil’s phone when Eunice went to lunch or was out.) Eunice never remembers me when she sees me (like all people of color with degrees, there’s only one degree of separation). I get it, she was on, I was trying to get put on. But I credit her with 1) teaching me how not to take any shit; and 2) learning how to get my way. Eunice didn’t ask, she demanded. And people always came through, on time or early. There’s an art to doing that and I picked it up (sorta) just by paying attention.
Brett Johnson assigned me to write picture captions. That was my first VIBE byline. Shortly thereafter, Craig Seymour assigned me to write reviews. It was a CD by a random artist who never amounted to much music-wise. I did the best I could and right after I turned it in, he called me into his office and told me it was wrong and why, and then showed me how to do it right. He told me reviews were like poetry and because they were short, I had to make each word count. He’d assigned the review at 300. The revised version I turned in was 309. He told me word counts were sacred and made me cut it to 300 myself. To this day, I don’t turn anything over count. I will always be thankful for his patience and his teaching.
Serena Kim came while I was at VIBE too. She ripped the first review I wrote for her. (In retrospect, she was over features. Not sure if I was doing a review or some special project.) Anyway, I was an English major and wrote in lofty academic prose. Serena got me to write like a writer, not a professor. Between her and Craig, I was whipped into shape and eventually, Craig assigned me a NEXT, a profile on a rising female star, but more importantly a full page in VIBE. Serena wasn’t ever convinced I was a good writer while I was still an intern, but she assigned me something after I was gone and her response was “this is great.” Small words, probably given off-hand. They meant the world to me though.
Lola Ogunnaike wrote almost every VIBE cover story while I was there— and with great cause. She was at the NY Times and she was just plain dope. Shani edited her, and I learned what an editor did by reading the raw versions Lola sent in (there's a hilarious anecdote about Papa Knowles listening in on his wife's phone call from a Destiny's Child feature. It got cut) and then reading the version Shani spit-shined Admittedly, this was a bad way to learn. Lola never got a lot of edits as far as I could tell. I thought all writers came in this clean. Not true. Until this day, every feature I’ve ever written followed Lola's set-up formula (not style though. I've found my own voice.) It’s not intentional. It just is.
I was supposed to be an intern for just the first semester of grad school. I stayed for my whole first year. And would have stayed through summer if Bart Graham hasn’t told me staying at VIBE instead of going to London would make me an idiot.
I told the ME, Jackie Monk—quick story. She had this white dress shirt with “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy written on the collar. Get it? Jack. Jackie? Oh, nevermind— , I was leaving. When my last day came, there was a small cake and soda for a bye-bye party just for me. I was floored. I didn’t think anybody cared; I was just an intern. Maybe I made a difference?
I said my goodbyes before I left (not knowing I would come back the next semester.) Tasha Turner and Memsor Kamarke sat closest to the exit. I’d hung out over in their section a bunch back then (I went to a VIBE party and being an intern, didn’t know the general Industry rule that folks don’t dance at parties. Memosr teased me forever about backing it up on some man. Ha!) I was as obsessed with fashion as I was with music. They stopped me on the way out and told me they didn’t know what I was doing over there in music, but I needed to be working in fashion. Over the years, when it seemed like this writing thing was going nowhere, I took comfort in knowing I had something else to fall back on. Their comments built my confidence.
I cried on the subway home back to my downtown apartment. My experience at VIBE confirmed that running from to DC to NYC wasn’t just some suburban fantasy. I didn’t know any writers where I was from. I didn’t know anyone from home who’d headed North to NYC. (By and large, DC/MD people don’t leave DC/MD.) When Ace and I used to flip through magazines back in high school and tear out pages to post on our walls, VIBE was an unreachable destination. It was something on a pedestal that I could never reach. Like everybody has government jobs where I’m from or they go to law school and work on The Hill. People had told me I was a good writer, and it was suggested than I use that skill to write briefs as a lawyer. To do something different, to take a risk in leaving and falling on my ass and having to go back to all the I-told-you-sos and I don’t know why you ever though you’d make it (I heard both when I graduated from grad school without a job) was terrifying. And to know I wouldn’t have to… It was a relief. I realized if I could get to a faraway impossible place like VIBE—this place I idolized— then was there anywhere I couldn’t go?
I felt validated, accomplished, confident, purposeful. It was my first step in journalism that led to many, many more.
I can’t believe VIBE is gone.
Thanks for everything.
*I mention all the names because everyone who was there moved UP, UP, UP. If you don’t know the names, Google them. That place was a breeding ground for talent and I’m proud that I was even a very, very small part.
**When I finished school and went back home jobless, I was depressed as all get out. Cried the whole ride home. The morning after, I woke up, laid in the bed like a lump (I was in a real bad place) and stared at the back of my bedroom door. It was covered with magazine pages that I'd torn out of VIBE, The Source, and ESSENCE. All the pictures had been up since before I went to college 4 years earlier (my parents hadn't chaged my room yet.)
I looked, looked harder, then sat up to see what I was looking at vertically.
"Are you f@#$ing kidding me?" I said outloud
The picture dead center was of this dope chick with long. perfect locs and dark glasses. She was wearing all white and had a ring in her nose. Nobody called it swag then, but that's what she giving up in that picture. The woman in the photo? Shani Saxon.