Tavi Gevinson’s radically inclusive vision at Rookie gave teenage girls a world they could believe in. As her next act takes her into uncharted territories, she explains why performing on stage is as much about self-actualisation as it is about becoming a girl possessed
At the beginning of Ivo van Hove’s Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s witch-trial drama The Crucible, the stage curtains rise to reveal a classroom of schoolgirls at their desks. Dressed in identical uniforms with their backs turned away from the audience, their voices ring out in a chilling 17th-century hymnal. Though right in front of us, the girls feel far away and unknowable, washed in greyscale. Among those turned backs, though you wouldn’t know it yet, is publisher, writer and now actress Tavi Gevinson.
It is a striking image of restricted adolescence, and one that’s a far cry from the glistening, empowered world of girlhood Gevinson has created for young women online through the website she edits, Rookie. It’s the day after the performance I was in the audience for, and Gevinson and I are sitting outside an old-school West Village restaurant close to her apartment. “I was with Amandla and Willow the other day,” she begins, relating a previous conversation shared with friends – in this case, fellow world-wielding young women Amandla Stenberg and Willow Smith – over an iced coffee or two, much like any other 20-year-old on a Friday afternoon in New York. “Willow was like, ‘Rookie is so Tumblr.’ And Amandla was like, ‘No, woah, Rookie started that. Tumblr is Rookie.’” She smiles at the idea. “And I was like, ‘I know, where’s my money?’”
In person, Gevinson is talkative and sparkly, her mouth able to keep up with her thoughts without seeming like she is in a rush to get it all out. Even when she is giving forth on, say, an extremely well-articulated theory on the progression of mankind (“The thing is, after secularism…”), everything is delivered with unaffected spontaneity, and an endearing smidge of goofiness – it’s never didactic, but you’ll definitely learn something. Sentences are often prefaced with, “This is a little weird to bring up,” “OK, see if you can follow this…”, or even, “Can you tell that I live alone and have a lot of thoughts that I never share with anyone?”
But that is precisely what Gevinson has always done, and for some eight years now: shared her thoughts, honestly and vividly. She has communicated Comme des Garçons critiques on her fashion blog, Style Rookie, which she began when she was 12; given advice to devotees of her monthly editor’s letters on Rookie; brought together sticker sheets, Solange and lessons in intersectionality in the four best-selling Rookie annuals; and schooled one million-plus viewers in her 2012 TED talks on what it’s really like to be a teen who is “just figuring it out”. Ever since she wrote “Well, I am new here” on that first blog post, an important conversation about identity – her own, and every girl’s – has continued. She writes, she says, every single day.
Taken from Dazed Autumn 16. Read the full profile on Dazed Digital.