In Conversation

Tavi Gevinson On Rookie, Regrets, And Reboots

The writer and actress talks launching her new Rookie series with Audible just two years after shuttering the publication.

In the first week of 2021, the name Tavi was trending. Yes, that Tavi (do you know any others?): the 24-year-old writer and actress who first entered the public eye back in 2008 as a 12-year-old with a blog called "Style Rookie" that took over the fashion world. Before her sweet 16, Tavi Gevinson, originally from Oak Park, Illinois, had traveled to Paris Fashion Week, written for Harper’s Bazaar, and acted as both a muse and model for Rodarte’s collaboration with Target, to name just a few of her many adolescent accomplishments. While most preteens who achieve internet stardom before puberty tend to burn out fast and quick, Gevinson translated her early notoriety into a full-fledged career. In 2011, she launched her own online magazine, Rookie, which would eventually shutter in late 2018, and has since branched into acting.

Over a decade later, Gevinson is still just as relevant a name as ever, thanks in large part to a no-holds-barred candor that has only emboldened with time. Her most recent social media moment? A lengthy comment on Karlie Kloss’s Instagram, following the model’s claim that she had “tried” to talk politics with sister-in-law Ivanka Trump. “Karlie, give it a rest,” she wrote. “You have a lot of nerve to make a show of championing girls’ coding and your other causes while only politely disowning your family in public (lmao @ you ignoring Ivanka on social media; she still went to your wedding). I can’t believe you’re not more embarrassed not just by them but YOUR decision to only publicly disown their politics in polite ways so you can have it both ways.”

Just as she did as a tween, Gevinson has a knack for saying what we’re all thinking, making it all the more thrilling that this week Rookie is back, with a new iteration and format. In partnership with Audible, Gevinson is launching an eight-part podcast series that revives the site’s popular “Like Skills” column. “I reached out to a number of our writers and just asked them to give me three different life skills they think they could teach, and then worked with Audible to agree on a good balance of everything,” says Gevinson over Zoom. “It’s been a very fun and, honestly, very comforting way to be in the Rookie universe again.”

Here, Gevinson talks candidly about reopening the Rookie chapter of her life, why it closed in the first place, and, yes, her role on the Gossip Girl reboot.

How did this reincarnation of Rookie come to fruition?

I started talking to Audible at the beginning of [2020] about doing something. I had really liked doing the Rookie podcast a few years ago, but that was more interviews within shorter segments by our contributors. I liked the idea of doing this one-off Rookie reunion that could be this one little special project that wasn't exactly anything we'd done before but would feel very familiar.

When were these first talks happening?

That's a great question. Time is so weird. You're going to have to talk to God about that. I feel like I started talking to Audible about this at the beginning of the year. Definitely [Gossip Girl] was going to happen and then COVID happened and it reaffirmed how much I selfishly wanted to be working on this. I get so much out of editing people's work and being in conversation with them through their writing. I love being able to deal with the specifics of the writer's experience, but then also try to imagine the reader who's listening and what they need and how it could possibly apply to different situations.

And then also it's just nice and intimate to hear someone's voice. I really miss going to readings. I really miss the Rookie events we would have. I thought if we can create that feeling a little bit, especially while people are locked down maybe at home, it would be really fun to work on. Selfishly, again, it's been really helpful for me.

When you first started conceptualizing what this project could be, did you have any reservations about making this a Rookie project and wanting to separate yourself from that now?

I think that unfortunately for Rookie, there are a lot of parts of the job that made me think that I didn't like Rookie when what I really didn't like was going to investors and asking for money or running a website and worrying about traffic. That's the struggle of something you love becoming your job. I wrote about this a lot in the last editor's letter that was on the site, when I kind of explained what was happening and why it was shutting down. I was so desperately in need of time to write, to not feel so responsible for other people, that I thought I wanted to be a totally offline hermit or something when Rookie folded, and surely, I have periods of that. But in the few years since it folded, I've noticed it’s not as black and white as I thought.

I know why I needed to shut it down, and I'm glad that that happened. On one hand, it was so painful, and on the other hand, one of the best things I've ever done for myself. But between Audible and this Rookie print sale that my friend Savannah and I organized in the fall, which was an art fundraiser to raise money for the Movement Voter Project, I was like, “For someone who really wanted this to be over, you seem to keep finding ways to have those connections again.”

I want that connection and community. It feeds me. I'm working on a book right now, and if I feel like a hermit who hates everybody, it's harder to write because then I don't know my audience. But if I feel a sense of community and support, then I'm being fed by other people's ideas and kind of being in conversation with them online, and that just elevates everything.

In your last editor’s letter, you spelled that all out pretty clearly, including the business end of things. Do you regret being so open with the public about the backend of it all?

It was a relief. As a writer, it helps me to be able to imagine the future me who will be writing about whatever horrible experience and being able to find the aspects of it that were unique or funny or excruciating and knowing that other people will see it and connect with it. I feel like the luckiest person in the world that for years I have had some stable of people who, when I write something like that, they're listening. So it was actually a relief to be able to be transparent and have some kind of control about the way the end of it would get told as a story.

In a way, I wish I'd been that willing to be open earlier on. I'm like, “Oh, surely if you had just posted like, ‘Hey, we're struggling. Donate to our Kickstarter,’ donations would have poured in.” I didn't realize how much shame I actually had about how it was going behind the scenes, and I wish I'd felt a little more able to share that with people. But that's also our culture. The irony is that I never made money from Rookie. I lost money from Rookie, and in a way, after a certain point I was bankrolling Rookie with money I made from influencer gigs where my job was to look like a successful girl boss. I had a lot of shame about that, but now I'm also able to see, well, that's the world we live in. Of course, it would be a lot harder for an independent women's media publication to survive than it would be for a 20-year-old skinny, white girl to be in an ad campaign.

Anyways, I was not a good business person, and that needs to be said.

It’s certainly a lot to expect a writer to also be a business person.

Our publisher Lauren Redding was great, but when we were looking for investors or looking for a buyer, it was demoralizing. It is painful to pitch a... what's a generous way of putting this? It's painful to pitch an artless venture capitalist on your thing you started when you were 15. It's painful to pitch it to an angel investor who works in the arts, who uses artists like you to appear virtuous because they're actually way wealthier than they would be in a more just economic system. Which is also the story of the arts and philanthropy, in general. And I say that also as someone who works in theater.

All this to say that I understand why everything happened the way it did, and now I'm glad. The thing that I've gotten out of being able to end it and talk about it and be transparent is — and I know it's cliche — but you really can't put a price on it. That kind of comfort and freedom and what it's done for me as a writer or just as a person who moves through the world, is so much more valuable than what I would have gotten in my, at the time, dream scenario, which was Rookie selling for a lot of money.

It’s only been two years since you last published, but now looking at what Rookie means in 2021, what are the things that you think have stayed the same and what has evolved in terms of what you want the brand to be?

I don't know. My friend was like, "Cool. Now you can just be, like, a skate brand, and you can do these little one-off things." I don't actually have anything else in mind beyond this show. So enjoy this one because it might be the only one! I'm not really thinking about that.

I do know that the website still gets nearly half a million uniques a month, which is wild. It took on this aura in its afterlife, for better or worse. Really what I would love to do with that is get some ads on the site and donate all of that money as it comes in. But I haven't been able to figure out how to do that. Again, maybe just ask for help and see if there are any like nerds out there who can figure it out. I also saw this writer, Rian Phin, was tweeting about how people on TikTok are rediscovering Rookie, which is news that made me feel really happy.

I do think some things just shouldn't go on forever, but I'm learning I can still create in these small ways through community. Things that I and other people liked about Rookie are living on in other ways, which is a much better evolution than if it had sold to some company and then become kind of a ghost of its former self. In terms of looking at Rookie in a history of independent feminist publishing, I'm looking forward to when it can be a little bit more in the rear-view mirror and people can, if they're interested in this, talk about it more as part of a lineage and maybe less connected to my own story or career.

Is there a certain aspect of your career you’re viewing as your main priority now, whether it be acting versus writing?

I think of everything in terms of the individual project and how excited I am about it. So it's not like I'm going, “I want to make more podcasts, therefore I'm doing this Audible thing.” It's more that I liked the idea of doing a Rookie show and also being paid for it, it must be said. Same with Gossip Girl. I wasn't like, “Time to do a TV show!” But it came up and I went in for it, and I was excited by it. And also as an actor, you're kind of at the mercy of what becomes available to you. So it's more case by case for me.

And you mentioned you’re writing a book?

It's shaping up to be [a series of] essays. I've been working on it for years, but at this point I don’t think one word is the same as whatever I had five years ago. It is about my life and my experiences I've had in these different mediums, so naturally it is evolving as my life changes, and I'm welcoming those changes. I don't want to force it before it's ready.

Are there any other mediums that you haven't tackled yet that you still want to try?

I think eventually writing and directing. That feels like a combination of a lot of things I like, or kind of know how to do already. But that could change, too.

With this new iteration of Rookie and your role in the new Gossip Girl, how does it feel to be resurrecting two beloved entities at the same time?

I haven't really made a connection between the two, maybe because acting feels so separate from any of the work I do as a writer or editor. It is nice that people are so excited about [the show]. And I think they'll be excited about Rookie, too. I personally have never needed pop culture or content of any kind as much as I have this year. I hope both shows are as comforting to other people as they are for me to work on.

The first set pictures of the whole cast on the Met steps basically broke the internet. Were you expecting it to be that huge of a deal?

I was surprised in that it's a new thing for me. But they sort of warned us. It definitely does freak me out. I'm very comfortable with the size of audience I have now, and it is sort of weird to see yourself be kind of meme'd. But all of my favorite performers graciously accept the mantle of being a vessel for character or for people's fandom. People who are able to do that well and live their life, it's really impressive. Not to compare myself to Bernadette Peters, but when I saw Bernadette Peters in Hello, Dolly, and she was just giving the audience what they wanted, I was like, “This is so gracious and so generous." And, again, I'm not comparing myself to her, but I think while there's the hermit-y part of me that doesn't like people very much and has complicated feelings about attention. But I also know how much I respect people who just let themselves assume a certain kind of role in the culture. So I don't know. That probably sounds really self-aggrandizing.

It doesn’t; I get that.

What's hard about this stuff coming out online is that you're trying to measure a reaction online, and it is just impossible to know if what's happening only exists on the internet or if your life is changing in a material way.

Do you feel more prepared to handle being at the center of phenomenon now than you were 10 years ago?

It is a relief to cycle through certain feelings and just be able to identify like, “No, this isn't the end of the world; this is just the shame of posting something you regret or sending your editor a piece of writing that's really vulnerable.” I'm grateful that I just kind of know how those feelings sit in my body now, and nothing is that scary. They're just things to move through.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.