This month marks the six-year anniversary of Rookie. If it were a person, it would be going into the first grade. It is not a person, but it is made up of a lot of people, so we asked our contributors to reflect on the pieces from the vast Rookie archive that they’re most proud of, or most enjoyed reading. Head over to our Instagram to let us know what yours are! And thanks for helping us celebrate our birthday/anniversary/first day of elementary school!!!!
It was so hard to pick my favorite shoot for Rookie because they are all my favorite. They are all important to me in so many different ways. Rookie has been integral to my life. To have had it as a platform to create as a teenage girl, for teenagers, was and is groundbreaking. It gave me purpose, it gave me space, it validated me, it took me seriously, and it took care of me. Last Hurrah was especially important to me because it was the end of high school for my sister and her friends. They were my main subjects and muses for my Rookie shoots, so this shoot was really a marker of their teenage lives being over, of them maturing and growing into young adults.
There Was No Creek and I’m Still Alive. I first discovered Jenny Zhang through Rookie—how blessed we are to have had her writing all these years! This is one of her earliest stories for the site, and it still makes me a little weepy, just as much as it did when I first read it all those years ago. Jenny is pure magic.
Cereal Reviews and Ice Cream Reviews. I will forever love that we were truly at the forefront of snack criticism. These are the important topics the youth of today needs to know about! My ice cream review holds a special place in my heart because one time I met Stephen Colbert and he mentioned how thrilled he was that someone had reviewed his ice cream (I didn’t blurt out “It was me! It was me!” although I should’ve).
The Gilded Age. Is it gauche to put my own work in here? This is still one of my all-time favorite stories! I’m so glad I could make this fantasy world of Mary Katrantzou dresses come alive in a Chinatown mall (with Petra Collins’ genius eye, of course!).
Losing My Religion, written by Elna Baker in 2012, was such an important read for me as a 15-year-old Mormon living in Utah. Struggling with issues I had regarding the church, ethics, and my family, it was groundbreaking to realize that there was another person out there who felt my same struggle, and who found a way out. Elna writes with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that struck me at my core.
I spent the earlier half of my teens dying to be a music journalist! I racked up library fees reading anthologies of rap writing. And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years by Raquel Cepeda in particular. In an effort to support my endeavors, my mom encouraged me to read her VIBE back issues. At the top of the masthead? Danyel Smith. She was a Black woman running things and to me is hands down a legend in this game, laying the foundation for me and all the other shawties who want(ed) to wax poetic about rap. My favorite piece on Rookie, one I read over and over, is an interview between Julianne Escobedo Shepherd and Danyel.
Both of these women served as mentors to me. Julianne encouraged me early on to write. I’ll never forget when she retweeted a piece I wrote on a now-defunct blog about the “Beast Coast Movement,” a bygone era of new New York rap. It meant the world to me. I have so much love for her still and the amazing work she does at the Muse. A highlight of their conversation is the honesty I was looking for at the time. I needed an insider perspective and a sense of validation to pursue taking writing (pop culture writing at that, seriously). Especially, as a Black woman, all the writers I looked to were Black and Women of Color. With Danyel being the crème de la crème. A line that struck me at the time: “In frankness, the readers of Rookie should probably know that it’s a struggle when you’re in these fields that aren’t well populated by girls—and even when you are in fields that are well populated by girls.”
The whole interview is a revelation and I implore everyone to read it. If you don’t get around to it, I think this is one of the major points imparted by Danyel: “The world is a dangerous place, there’s no doubt about it, for women especially. You’re always dodging bullets of a certain kind, but we can’t let that make us scared to be free. Watch your back, but have your freedom. Just do it. Be wise. Cock your head at everybody. Side-eye everybody. Don’t let people make you smaller than you are.” Thank you Rookie for being a platform that showcases these kinds of conversations. I am so very lucky to be apart of that.
One of the things I love about Rookie is how it celebrates serious passion and fandom, honoring what an impact a love of pop culture can have on your life. Heart on My Sleeves, Amy Rose Spiegel’s piece (from the very first issue of Rookie!) on how Morrissey and the Smiths changed her life, is one of the most beautiful, honest, and fun pieces on the influence of music I’ve ever read. She captures the feeling of finding your soul in an artist so exquisitely, as only she can do.
There is nothing I have loved more than seeing what readers come up with in response to the Creative Prompts that Pixie, Rookie guest writers, and I have thrown down. I look at these writings and art for inspiration on the reg. Here’s a flashback to the very first round of responses!
Nilina Mason Campbell
Theme Song: Shamir. I fell in love with Shamir from the moment I heard “On the Regular” and reading this interview only drove the feeling home further. Everything about the conversation made things feel so possible.
Summer of Love, Part One by Petra Collins. After this was posted, I sent this link to foreign friends in an attempt to lure them into going on an American road trip with me.
I had a breakthrough in getting over an ex/my over-dependence on nostalgia after doing this interview with Doe Paoro. The interview was like an affirmation.
Getting It Straight. I love this early conversation featuring Arabelle Sicardi, Tyler Ford, and Krista Burton. At the time of this conversation, queer and gender politics were still emerging as crucial discussion points in popular culture. I love how this conversation tackled these topics through investigating queer misconceptions and myths, but in a way that was personal and very welcoming to teens.
I recently took an online quiz entitled, “Are You an Overly Sensitive Person?” As someone who cries from everything from the Olympics to Disney movies to talking my parents to not being able to handle how adorable animals can be, it should be no surprise that I scored very high on the sensitivity scale. Emily V. Gordon‘s article The Wallow has done *so much* to help me manage my emotions, survive everyday crying-related hurdles, and make space for myself to feel.
One of my favorite past monthly themes of Rookie was Age of Innocence, from April 2013. This theme was all about growing up and what it means to be young and new. We also asked ourselves what it means to lose or leave that state of youth or innocence, and whether or not it’s possible to go back to it. The Year I Learned Everything, a short story by Roxane Gay, captures all of these themes, with a focus on reclaiming yourself and being okay with who you are and what you have been through. Trigger warning: this story includes some themes of sexual abuse.
Nothing Really Matters by Stephanie Kuenhert helped me remember how giant the natural world is and how small my problems can be by comparison. In some ways, that thought is daunting or difficult to grapple with, but in other ways, it can be a tool for remembering how to be more present in your own daily life. Stephanie’s words from this piece say it best: “If your life is just a teeny tiny blip on the radar, the only meaning it has is what you give it, and the only person it needs to mean anything to is you.” Embrace your insignificance!
Ask a Grown is an amazing series where Rookies get to ask questions and have their favorite celebrities answer them. Some past AAG celebs include Terry Crews, Jon Hamm, Kumail Nanjiani, and Thom Yorke, to name a few. These celeb AAG videos are cool and all, but none of them can compare to the AAG by the one and only Steve Gevinson, aka Tavi’s Dad.
My Very Well-Loved Sick Parent. In this phenomenal piece, Kelly Abeln shares her experience of managing her caregiver role within her high school life, friend life, home life, and personal life. She shares something that readers really need to hear: you aren’t alone in this and even though it’s a hard process, it’s ok to talk about it and remember to have some time and space for self-care! I love Kelly’s perspective and really admire her for sharing this experience.
I’ll say what we all know already: Arabelle Sicardi is a makeup guru and genius who has been creating revolutionary hair and makeup looks since the start of her career. Here are a few of my favorite tutorials that she has done: How to Make Your Eyes Shimmer, How to Giganticize Your Eyes, and How to Do a Perfect Space Punk Face.
I have a hard time managing my wellbeing with anxiety-inducing and heartbreaking headlines debuting constantly. At times, it can hard to see if there is anything positive and hopeful out there at all. When I get down, I sometimes look at Saturday Links to try to remember how to be resilient and to pull through, and how doing this is an ongoing process and cycle: Getting Through It Together Edition and Ask Amy Edition.
I love how Rookie reviews everything from candy to videogames to prom dresses, but most of all, I love how in the past we’ve reviewed people from everyday life. People Reviews: Actual human people from everyday, and from everywhere! Here is my favorite collection of People Reviews.
When All Other Lights Go Out. This piece means a lot to me, as it’s the piece I get the most feedback on from Rookie readers. The kindness and empathy that came in after this piece represented all that is good about the internet, to me, anyway—that we can find support and love and understanding on both sides of the screen.
My selection is one of the first pieces I illustrated. Rookie introduced me to the work of Jenny Zhang, whose work consistently has blown me away, and I used to look forward to illustrating her pieces so much. This piece in particular, The Evolution of My Brother, really moved me when I first read it. I have revisited it a couple times throughout these six years and it has maintained that same power over me.
Friday Playlist: On Repeat. I was like OBSESSED with this playlist when it came out right when I had just started working for Rookie. I mined from it so many amazing songs I had never heard before (e.g., it’s how I heard the Fiona Apple song “Extraordinary Machine” for the first time) and something about it—to me, I guess—represented the wacky and earnest and honest community that I had so admired and was now getting to become a part of…anyway, I banged those songs on repeat for a long time, from cool to totally weird, and to whoever contributed “In The Meantime” by Spacehog to this playlist, I tip my hat to you!
Zooming Out. This visual heart stopper from Shriya Samavai and her bestie Clare Drummond, who is literally one of my all-time favorite artists and huge inspirations and who I found through Rookie in this very comic. Shriya’s words here feel extremely soothing to me for some reason, and the way that Clare’s drawings really open up the subject matter to these whole new dimensions feels like a very special thing to witness and even kind of gives me a vertigo-like, teetering-on-the-brink-of-someone’s-brain feeling.
Bringing me to another bookmarked fave which coincidentally is from the same month in 2015, this beauuuutiful and groundbreaking comic by Sunny Betz, I Know What My Heart Is For, changed both the way I want to make comics and my opinions on what and how a comic should be. It was such a glorious peek into Sunny’s brain and the experience of the loneliness/friendliness dichotomy of starting college.
Amanda Leigh Smith
It’s been truly an honor to be a part of Rookie for the last several years. 2014 was the first time I was published in Rookie, with Fast Car. It was with the ever-inspiring Olivia Bee, and these are still some of my favorite photos. We had such a great day cruising around Sauvie Island outside of Portland, one of our favorite places to go to escape the city. Being a Rookie contributor, as well as my friendship with Olivia, has been such a gift.
My favorite post on Rookie is We Followed the Sun by Eleanor Hardwick, Rachel Hardwick, and Chrissie White. I love road tripping and this was just a really beautiful example of the kind of things that happen when you travel new places with friends. The pictures are really intimate, like you’re looking at a really special moment that the photographer luckily shared with us. This inspired me to plan a similar road trip down the West Coast with my friends.
Ugh, I hate this. If I overthink it I will end up including everything and never leaving my house and getting bed sores from this chair, but the first one that came to mind was Maggie Thrash‘s How to Make a Computer. Who does that? Who writes that? Maggie, that’s who. Oh and last week I shared my favorite themes and Editor’s Letters but those lists are basically: all of them. Wait but also: With You and Without You, María Fernanda Molins’ tribute to her father. This was also her very first contribution to the site which is nuts because I can’t imagine Rookie without her. And also: Not Creepy At All, when you all sent in pictures of your fandom shrines and showed what it means to be in a committed relationship. OK I’M STOPPING THERE BYE!
July 1995. I wrote this piece three years ago, about a summer I had 22 years ago, and reading it makes my heart beat faster. It makes me miss old friends, my favorite pink polyester shirt, my perfect bellbottoms, and that gut-squishing feeling of a hardcore crush.
If one were to draw a pie chart of the reasons that I love Rookie, the largest slice of that pie would be People Telling the Truth. There are a thousand examples of this, but one that I will never forget is Danielle Henderson‘s Epic and Important DIY Emergency Tampon Video. Danielle holds nothing back—how could you? We are talking about blood, unexpected blood, surprising blood, and that moment when you’re sitting on the toilet, looking around for anything that could save you and your pants from a stain the size of Cleveland. I love you, Danielle, and I love you, Rookie.
My collab with Savana Ogburn, Angels in the Garden. I guess I would say that that was the first collab Savana and I ever did and we’ve become good friends because of Rookie. I’m really thankful for the platform you all gave us to publish those images. We worked very hard on them and we were very proud of ourselves because the final images were exactly what we dreamed them up to be. Rookie has long been a favorite platform of mine for go to inspiration and I appreciate what you all do to provide a safe space for art and important community topics. Thank you especially to Tavi, for dreaming this brilliant idea. I know you probably never thought it would be this big, but I’m so, so glad it is.
Amy Rose Spiegel
You Will Survive. Ragini Rag Nao has contributed such pragmatic, rare work to Rookie, and this is the article of hers I most admire. As a person who was abused growing up, Ragini has a perspective that she lion-heartedly shares about getting through times like the one she faced, and it’s beyond generous, but most of all instrumental and useful, in its honesty and consideration.
There Was No Creek and I’m Still Alive. Jenny Zhang, the author of the newly released story collection Sour Heart, decorated Rookie with her brilliant short fiction from the site’s earliest days. Here’s where I originally fell headlong in love with her writing—I don’t know many other writers who can so bluntly and truly speak like they’re translating secret things you prize and believe and know into real-life sentences.
The Right to Be a Black Girl. This landmark essay by Thahabu Gordon is a straightforward breakdown of misogynoir—specifically anti-black misogyny—and how it affects the lives and livelihoods of the young people who face it. It’s comprehensive, gutting, and crucial, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Damn It’s the Teen Girl Life. This instructional article about how to be young, sassy, rebellious, and cool, by a fictional baby wolf, made me weep-laugh the first time I read it and still delights me to this day. Within, you’ll find tips on pressing teenage concerns, including “a good way to show that you are cool to a new group of people is to write “responsibilities” on a piece of paper and then throw it away,” “searching the web, for clues,” and “That one friend named Kelly or Rachel,” plus so many other important bits of guidance.
Class Discussion. What I most love about Rookie is that it gently contains so many varied experiences, perspectives, points of view, and truths. (Sappiness, thy name is ARS!! BUT WHATEVER I MEAN IT.) I was grateful to be a part of this long, honest conversation about class, in which many contributors straightforwardly discussed how money, their upbringings, race, and so many other determinants affecting their financial and social standings in the world.
The entire First Person issue. God, was this issue so good! Tavi describes what defined my favorite of all Rookie’s monthly themes to date this way in its Editor’s Letter: “the combined beauty and danger of inventing yourself, owning your experiences, putting yourself on record.” The attendant pieces exploring those thoughts include an essay by Sandy Honig about working beyond and because of a longtime medical condition, an article by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd about being forthright with parents who are maybe hurting your heart, a theme song by Shamir, and so many other greatnesses. It’s the next-best thing to an actual buffet, in that the carving station/heat-lamp pizza/teriyaki chicken delights on offer here are HEART- ‘N’ CREATIVITY- ‘N’ SPIRIT-BASED. I loved all these first people, contributors, and readers alike, and still do very much. It reminds me that there’s so much all up on this website that can and will burrow into a brain for the better and that combing the archives is always a great way to restore yourself. Long live Rookie, and happy anniversary. ♦