Evette Brown is Senior News and Identity Editor of Revelist. She has also written for other publications such as The New York Times, Teen Vogue, and Bustle.
Tell me a little about yourself as a person, and your background.
I’m originally from New York, Queens. My family moved to Denver when I was 14. Originally, I went to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and then I transferred to Bennett in 2009-2010. I have one brother, two nieces, and a nephew.
What inspired you to start writing?
I think I’ve always somewhat been a writer. When I was younger, when I was like 12 or 13 I used to write poetry. Then I thought I wanted to write music which was, I was so misguided. I thought I wanted to write music for a while so I think I was always a writer. But when I went to college I wanted to do radio and when I transferred to Bennett they didn’t have radio, and so I was kind of I guess funneled into magazine editing and realized that I really enjoyed it, and that I enjoyed writing. And that’s when I decided to kind of transition from radio to writing.
You are a Senior Editor at Revelist. After figuring out you liked writing and editing, was that your dream job?
Yeah it was. I remember being in college, and saying I wanted to be editor-in-chief of Essence, which is still a part of my dream. But I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I guess when I was in college I didn’t realize that writing and editing weren’t exactly the same thing. I thought that I could do both, I thought that I could be an editor and be a writer. In some ways, I can there’s probably a 75/25 split between writing and editing. Editing takes up the bulk of my time. But yeah, I always wanted to be, once I found out about writing as a career, I wanted to be an editor. Editors made decisions and so I wanted to be the person making decisions.
How did you get where you are now at Revelist, to being that Senior Editor?
Oh, girl it’s been a journey. I started writing professionally when I was a junior in college. So, I started at the time I didn’t realize I could be an intern and work remotely, but my very first internship was at this website called BettyConfidential.com, and I was an editorial intern, and I worked from home. So, I stayed home for the summer, and I worked from home, but I was still like publishing stories they were being published on the website and being read, and that was like my first I guess inkling that wait I can write from home and this can be a thing, and I could still get paid to do it. Then from there I became one of their contributing writers, they kept me on after my internship. So, I was still writing like once a week. Then my vision shifted because back then I wanted to do like lifestyle writing, like fashion and beauty and all that stuff because that’s what I had been doing and thought I was pretty good at it. Then I went to grad school, and I realized that I wanted to do kind of harder news. I wanted to do news editing, political writing, and kind of identity based writing, and so I kind of shifted focus at a time. It was kind of the perfect conversion because it was the time when Twitter started dominating conversations, and so I kind of learned how to work twitter I guess, and use it as a way to get my voice out there. That’s when I started getting a lot of writing opportunities.
From there I started writing for The New York Times, Bustle, all of these places, Self magazine. From there I just became a full time freelance writer. I was never on staff anywhere, I liked being able to dictate my own schedule, and being able to dictate what I wrote. I didn’t have to worry about meeting quotas, or worried about page views and numbers. I could write what I wanted to write, when I wanted to write it. Then I got tired of that because I tend to do that. I go tired of writing and so I went to teach, and taught for two years, and then I got tired of teaching. I just didn’t want to teach anymore, I decided to go back to writing. I applied for this job blindly, I didn’t know anybody at Revelist, I didn’t know anybody at Cafe Media which is the bigger company that own Revelist. I just applied blindly from Media Bistro, and ended up getting the job surprisingly because I definitely didn’t think I would, and now I’ve been there a year.
Why Revelist? What about them made you want to be a part of their team?
That’s a good question. At the time when I started interviewing with Revelist I was also interviewing for a position at Elle Magazine, and it was kind of a similar position in terms of like editing and it was both news editing. I would have been running all of their weekend coverage, all their weekend news coverage at Elle. I think what made me go with Revelist was initially their vision was to kind of blow up the way that women websites had been doing news. That was really appealing to me because I wasn’t a fluffy writer. I’m not crazy about writing about fashion and beauty anymore; I sometimes write about Pop culture, but I’m always writing about pop culture through the lens of race, gender, and class, and so they were open to that, and they were willing to do it. They were willing to see news from the same lens that I saw news. I guess their initial vision really aligned with mine which is why I decided to leave freelance writing to go to Revelist. I always told myself, and I used to say this to my boyfriend all the time I will not leave freelance writing until I find the perfect job. Otherwise I’ll stay a freelancer forever.
What are some challenges you faced on your journey to where you are now?
I would say I’m not a networker, I’m not a person who can go into a room with a business card and like meet everybody in the room. A lot of journalism I based on that, a lot of it is based on who you know opposed to how good you are at what you do. You know like when I’m hiring the first people I contact are typically the people in my network who I know are looking for a job. That happens at many publications and I’m usually not the person on their list because I’m not, I’m a friendly person, but I’m not a small talker like I don’t just walk up to people and meet them and they just fall in love with me and I you know give them my business card and they put me on their rolodex; I’m not one of those kinds of people. So, that was one of my biggest challenges, overcoming kind of this network based we only hire people we know mentality. I would also say like getting pigeon holed like you know I’m at a point in my career where I don’t want to write about identity anymore. My lens is always going to be through the lens of a black women no matter what I’m writing. But I don’t want to write like this person fat shamed this other person and this is what she said back. I don’t want to write that anymore, and that’s what a lot of identity based writing is. So being pigeon holed in that way like I get job offers all the time people are starting new websites and they want me to come on and build their identity coverage, and that is frustrating. I want to political work, I want to do pop culture work. I don’t want to do like can you build me an identity section where we talk about clapping back at people. I’m tired of that. So being pigeon holed in that way is frustrating and it’s a real challenge, but hopefully I’ll figure it out.
I can understand that you don’t want to be known for just that one specific thing. To date what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
The New York times for sure. I think colleges are changing now but when I was in journalism school they always said freelance writers had to like go and work for pennies first like you had to go be a newspaper reporter, and then if you were good enough you became an editor, and then if you were really good a bigger publication like New York Times would hire you to write for them. So being able to like circumvent all of that and be I think I was 22 or 23 at the time, and being able to say like I wrote for The New York Times in my resume has been I would say by far my biggest accomplishment. I’m also really really proud of the freelance network that I’ve built at Revelist, and that I publish essays and like features and commentary from women of all different backgrounds; and like trans people, and the LGBTQ people, and just people who ordinarily wouldn’t have a chance to write about their experience and get paid for it. I’m really proud that I’m in a place that allows me to do that.
Do you have any advice for people aiming to make it in the journalism industry?
Oh, yeah one thing I would say is to and this may sound cliché like I’m an old lady, but take college seriously. In terms of like; a lot of my earlier stories that I published were stories that I wrote in class, and that I took the guidance on, and like turned back in when they gave me edits, and polished it and pitched it, and it became a story I got paid for. So, I always tell college students if they want to be in journalism to take their classes serious. Even if you don’t get an A in the class its ok, but if your teacher is offering you feedback on your story or whatever take what they are saying to heart rework the story and figure out a way to pitch that story somewhere. I would also say to intern and to intern a lot. What’s interesting is like now the place that I’m at, at Cafe Media one of our websites the Senior Editor there was my first internship boss. You always run into the same people over and over again, and so I always know if I’m going somewhere I can rely on her to give me a good reference, or to say something good about me. Seeing that she’s seen my journey from being her intern to being her equal. So, I would always say to definitely intern and intern as much as you want to. Also, use social media to your advantage like social media is such a big platform, and it’s such a good way of connecting with people. Connecting with editors, and figuring out how I can get my name out there; twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are great tools for doing that and if you use them correctly I will open all of the doors for you in journalism.
That’s so interesting. Did you ever think you would run into your intern boss again? In that setting?
Not at all and what’s interesting is she sent me a message on LinkedIn right before; I didn’t even know she worked for that company. She sent me a message to ask me if I wanted to freelance for her, and when I realized and I looked at her LinkedIn and I realized that she worked at the same company. I was like wait I’m coming into your company. I can’t freelance for you because I’m coming on full time at your company, and it was just like a full circle moment like this was the first women to ever give me a shot, and now were peers. Its mind blowing to me. I never thought in a million years she and I could ever be on the same level.
Do you have plans to write any books in the future?
Yes. I actually just stared meeting with literary agents. I’m trying to sell a collection of essays, and so I just starting meeting with agents about kind of the process of you know writing the proposal and stuff. I’ve met with a few agents and there’s one in particular that I’m really interested in so hopefully that pans out. I would really love to write a book or two. I’m no crazy about writing series of books, but like one or two books I’m gung-ho for.
Is there anything you would like to add, that I may have missed that you feel is important to know?
One thing that’s very important to know and I’m serious with this for any journalist do not work for free. Don’t ever work for free, and I say that as somebody who worked for free. When I was in college I wrote hundreds of articles probably 200-300 articles for free. I never made a dime from it and I think that for some people you can afford to work for free, but most people who want to be journalist can’t. I was very fortunate that I have two parents who are well off who supported financially me while I was pursuing my career, but a lot of people don’t have that. I always encourage journalism students to fight for what they’re worth even if is $10 an hour, even if it’s you pay my relocation cost, or my transportation like always fight for some sort of compensation for your work. Your work is valuable you should not be giving it away for free ever.
Well I know a lot of people are big on blogging right now.
See I think blogging is different in terms of like it’s your own platform, you are investing in yourself. You aren’t making another company a profit. So, like if you write for me and I don’t pay you; we get paid. I get bonuses based on how well a story does so I’m getting paid for somebody else’s work and they’re not getting a dime; it’s just wrong. It’s not right, you’re giving young people the short end of the stick, and I just I hate when people write for free. Don’t offer to write for free I don’t care who it is.