Tavi Gevinson Speaks to Students About Finding Her Identity

Tavi Gevinson and Jenny Zhang talk life, inspirations, and their books at Scripps College’s Garrison Theater on Nov. 7. (Serene Harb • The Student Life)

Scripps College invited magazine editor Tavi Gevinson and novelist Jenny Zhang to the Garrison Theatre Tuesday for an evening of conversation about finding oneself as a young adult.  

Gevinson is the editor-in-chief of Rookie, an online magazine for teenagers that she launched at the age of 15. Zhang just released her newest novel, Sour Heart in August, and has written for Rookie.

The theatre was filled with eager students, many of whom had been avid followers of Rookie and Gevinson’s fashion blog Style Rookie since middle school.

Zhang and Gevinson began the conversation by reflecting on the struggles they and the world as a whole have faced in 2017. Gevinson talked about how students should not be afraid to make mistakes.

“It’s so much worse to live in fear and be afraid of failure that you actually can’t reach the more interesting depths of your consciousness,” she said.

Gevinson added students should not shy away from situations that make them uncomfortable, as discomfort can help them develop and grow as writers and as people. She also advised students to recognize their own transgressions and flaws and acknowledge that they cannot be perfect.

Gevinson, who achieved acclaim at age 11, said that her parents helped her remain true to her identity and resist outside influences trying to change her. Over time, the values that her parents instilled in her have strengthened into a strong sense of self-worth and independence, and Gevinson does not let others' opinions and expectations of her determine her self-worth.

“Now, I block it out because, no matter how well-meaning these expectations people have for me are, I know that I wouldn’t be able to meet them all and I would also have less time and energy for people in life who love me for things other than my work,”  Gevinson said in an interview with TSL. “I have been aware of those voices for nearly half my life and I feel that I have a responsibility to myself, the people who love me, and to the people who just want to read good work, and to block those projections out so that I can actually do my job and make things that are honest.”

Rookie has evolved and grown as Gevinson herself has grown up, and is now an outlet to address issues Gevinson sees in the world and to provide a platform for other writers.

“I love writing but it’s more about providing a space for other artists to find their voices," she said.

Zhang also asked Gevinson about political engagement on the internet and how 5C students can engage politically, especially online. Gevinson responded that political debate is an inherent part of the internet.

“Nothing can be apolitical, and nothing on the internet isn’t tied to capital and cultural capital,” Gevinson said.

During a Q&A section of the presentation, Shanaya Stephenson PO ‘19, a longtime Gevinson fan, asked Gevinson how she had the courage be an outspoken feminist. Stephenson added that Gevinson was the first person to expose her to femininsm.

“I felt so frustrated with going to school and being made fun of with how I looked, I hated the magazines and the creepy teachers, so by channeling rage into creativity, it felt natural to express that on Rookie," Gevinson responded.

After the presentation, another longtime Gevinson reader, Elle Biesemeyer SC '21, who attended a small student discussion with Gevinson prior to the talk, reflected on the influence Gevinson has had on her life.

“I began reading and viewing [Gevinson's] work when I was in sixth grade after my mom shared an article from The New York Times," Biesemeyer said. "Rookie has been a really influential part of growing up for me and grounded me in times of hardship."