October 25, 2013

Spotlight: Kate Jenkins

Chronicling resilience, disillusionment and biophilia, Kate Jenkins' beautiful
brainchild The Intentional gives millenials page space for creativity.

Luckily, when 27-year-old Kate Jenkins moved from North Carolina to Washington, DC in a knee-jerk reaction to a bad week, she didn't foresee the level of adversity and rejection the next year and a half would hold for her. She didn't know the nights she would stay up considering the limitations of her own ability, or all the ways her project could fail as the responsibilities of life closed in. It's fortunate that she didn't anticipate those obstacles, because if she did, she might not have had the audacity to lead the cultural and intellectual marketplace publication The Intentional.

The Intentional, a journal of essays, art, poetry and fiction, is a chronicle of the editors' biophilia, and their ambition to create a space where millenials could define their own truths instead of passively ingesting the labels and realities doled out by an older and more established generation. If not for Editor-in-Chief Jenkins' initial naivete, the journal would not have been as precise in its reflection of wonder or struggle; its sensory edges wouldn't have been sharpened by the experience of failure. Kate's most exceptional qualities are the resilience borne of pioneering a print publication in a digital age, paired with the humility and gratitude that accompanied her unexpected success.

Jenkins, along with co-editors and curators L.A. Johnson, Katharine Pelzer, Wei Tchou and Alana Ramo, is now included in the burgeoning lineup of young people who have the privilege and responsibility of being heard out of the mania of the generation; a position that doesn't result from nepotism, power or tradition but ingenuity and sleep deprivation.  

THE LE SIGH: What inspired you to start curating The Intentional? How did you come together with the other editors?

Kate Jenkins: I was frustrated that no one would give me a chance to do what I knew I could do really well, so rather than sit on my ass and apply for jobs until the day I died, I decided to make the ideal job for myself. The process was somewhat less than ideal--I was unbelievably broke (and indebted), alone, under-qualified, unconnected and terrified--but I'm terribly glad I went through with it. Perhaps if I could have known what was ahead, I wouldn't have had the courage, but in this case my ignorance was my salvation.

TLS: It seems part of your inspiration for the journals was sort of out of a frustration or disillusionment with the reality of being a young adult in today's society and a desire to create a unique expression. Would you agree with that?

KJ: The magazine was a way for me to catalyze a discussion on this very topic; I wanted to create a platform for a sustained conversation about the identity crises so many of us experience when we're young. Basically I was pissed as fuck at my own situation, and I knew so many incredibly talented, creative people feeling the same way. I thought I'd give it a shot and try to convince them all to contribute something; as it turned out, there were a handful of people who were willing to contribute even more than an essay or illustration--that's how I found my three editors and the management team. After running my mouth enough to friends, friends of friends, acquaintances and strangers, a few people really adopted the cause and project as their own. It has grown so significantly and so beautifully since then, and I'm just blown away by how the quality of the magazine reflects that recent expansion.

TLS: Can you explain a little about the process behind soliciting submissions for the journal and then publishing them? How did the creation and production of the journal happen?

KJ: The initial process wasn't very strategic. It was a lot of trial and error--mostly friends of friends and random connections through various networks, although I did some cold contacting of bloggers and posted calls for submissions on various websites. I asked a lot of dumb questions, had coffee with every writer, artist, designer and organizer in [DC] and tried to coach a lot of non-writers into producing a decent piece. I figured out quickly what worked and what didn't. Now we've got an Assistant Editor, who does a pretty constant search for new talent, primarily through MFA programs, writing events and cold e-mails to writers that fit our style who are publishing on other targeted sites. But we do get a lot more unsolicited submissions now, especially for fiction and poetry.

TLS: How do the journals stand apart from other methods for young people to express themselves?

KJ: I think we stand apart because although we work pretty exclusively with emerging creatives, we choose to present their work in a highly professional manner. We aren't a glossy because we want the reader to pick it up and know how dedicated we are to quality. This is not a haphazardly thrown-together blog. This is no joke. I think it commands a certain amount of respect when you see it, and that's because the writers and artists we work with deserve that respect, even if this is their first time getting published.

TLS: Has the reception of The Intentional surprised you? It seems like it was very well-received, at least in Washington, DC.

KJ: Absolutely. When I started on this thing, I didn't really anticipate what happened after it was released. I was pretty content to be working on my project and never looked up from it long enough to think about how people would respond. Creating the thing, that's what I was focused on. And then eventually I realized, like, "Oh yeah, marketing." People were going to want to interview me, people were going to have opinions about the work, people were going to hate it and love it, people were going to think I was a bitch. That was hard for me because I'm an introvert. But so far--I mean, I don't know about me on a personal level, but people seem to like the product pretty well. I've gotten a lot of heartbreakingly beautiful accounts of the ways it has impacted people; actually, I think I've cried at least twice this week alone from the lovely reviews people have sent me.

TLS: Has it ever been difficult to manage both your job and the editing of The Intentional? How have you achieved a balance between the two?

KJ: It's pretty hard, but I've come to understand that for ambitious twenty-somethings, that's just life. I'll spare you the rant on my theories about this, but I think the career ladder probably just doesn't work like it used to. If you want to make something of yourself, you damn well better be doing something outside your 9-5; everyone I know does. You've got to be desperate, hungry, tireless. I sleep a lot less than I used to, and usually every evening is scheduled about two weeks out, but it's funny that when you've got momentum that way, it just becomes easier to keep going. And once you're used to it, I think it becomes a lot more fun than you expect it to be. It also doesn't hurt that my management team at The Intentional happens to be the sisters I never had, so it's socially satisfying too.

TLS: Where do you see The Intentional going in the future? Do you have any plans for the journal, or are you figuring it out as you go along?

KJ: I can't tell you too much, but I can tell you that it'll be much more than a magazine someday very soon. This year is going to be huge; we'll be making some very bold moves in new directions. It's just not how I'm made to stop here and be content with it when we have so many other brilliant ideas bouncing around. But basically, we're exploring ways to expand on the mission of supporting emerging creatives, and that will manifest in various forms. Join the mailing list or follow us on Twitter to stay in the loop. 

TLS: When you were reading the submissions that you got for the first two journals, were you ever stunned by the intimacy and directness of any of the pieces? Were there any pieces you read that you had a really intense reaction to? Could you tell me a little about that, about how it feels to read these pieces that were written to be published in your journal; how they're so revealing and how that makes you feel as an editor?

KJ: It's amazing! It's exactly what I set out for the magazine to do. I didn't want the hero stories, the stories of triumph and success, because that's just not what we need right now. What we need is a really real look at the everyday things you're up against in your twenties and beyond. Most of the stories are not particularly extraordinary, and that's what I like about them. They're relatable because you can imagine yourself in a similar circumstance, but they're insightful because you have the author really digging in and exposing the heart of the matter. A lot of other literary magazines are inaccessible because they publish things for a very elite group of people, often on subjects that don't concern or interest the general public. I don't need a book review about an obscure "highbrow" poet's latest collection--give me your insides on a plate. That is a breathtaking, unique experience, realizing that someone has gone through that process, has excavated their own mind and soul for your project. It's an unbelievable honor. Sometimes reading these things just causes me to sob on my laptop. Have I mentioned the crying already?

TLS: I remember reading in the second editor's note that you wanted the journals to be aesthetically appealing enough to be kept as keepsakes. Have you heard anything back about that desire, like people appreciating the visual quality of the journal (in this question, let me iterate, they're both on my coffee table and have been for the past few weeks). Have you gotten any direct satisfaction out of that ambition?

KJ: Yes, people are telling me all the time about how important it is that the magazine is visually impressive. It was a tough decision to make, and it continues to be a tough decision to make with every issue, because there's definitely a cheaper option. Most literary magazines don't produce this kind of (physical) quality for a very valid reason. But we really want to stand not just for writers, but also for artists who are struggling to make their marks and show the world what they can do, so this is an important aspect of the work that we do. And because the written content isn't only for MFA students, it's important that the object be attractive so all kinds of people are attracted to it; a lot of people who don't read literary magazines read our literary magazine, and I think that's because they're interested right from the moment they pick it up. I also do believe that in the long run, it'll be what sets us apart from other literary magazines. I hope that people don't want to read it online, because it just wouldn't be the same experience.

TLS: How has your appreciation for and the creative eye toward reading different pieces developed since you've started The Intentional? Also, often in the publishing/writing industry there's a significant amount of rejection before you get a break--have you experienced that? What was an example and how did you learn from it?

KJ: Oh my gosh, you should see the things I wrote and the things I considered publishing when I first started this. We have this bizarre collective idea that writing and editing are innate skills that you either have or you don't, which is just such a myth. Some of us are naturally better than others, true, but with practice, you do improve tremendously. I remember hitting a moment of despair a few months into the project, when I was convinced that I was just the shittiest writer and it wasn't what I was meant to be, and a friend of mine had to talk me down. She made me see how ridiculous it was that I thought I couldn't get better with time. The same goes for editing and I think you can see a marked difference between issue one and two, in part because my skills as an editor grew so much in just a six-month period. And it doesn't hurt that when you've been around the block a few times, you know when a piece is going to work with some polishing and when you should just call it quits.

TLS: Have any really singular experiences come out of editing the journals? For instance, praise from someone you admire (a writer I admire complimented one of my pieces to me via email and I basically choked up), a cool opportunity, etc.?

KJ: My work with the magazine landed me my current full-time job as an editor. When Refinery29 did a feature on me, everything just exploded and I got so many more magazine orders and freelance offers. Those are pretty big.

Learn more about The Intentional on their website.

Carolyn Lang, who likes to write and travel and spends most of her time in Middle Eastern restaurants. She is the combined effort of everyone she's ever known. Carolyn keeps track of things that fascinate her here.