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“We as a people come out of this highly literary Black tradition where we’re trying to break down societal barriers through art and give a voice to people who often go unheard.”
That’s what Jason Parham, founder of SPOOK magazine, says in a previous interview with Ebony. Between declining subscriptions and the rapid integration of a digital landscape, all signs seemingly point towards the death of print media. Just last year, Women’s Wear Daily reported that “a total of 50 magazines with at least a quarterly publication frequency closed…leaving the number of magazines last year at 7,176.” Yet print media is far from forgotten.
It is amid publishing’s diminished presence that a renaissance is occurring. Incited by an industry that often neglects and overlooks its minority readership, this renaissance is centered around people of color—sharing their stories, problems, ideas, and creations.
While executives may only see inclusivity as a trend, this crop of smaller magazines expertly crafts a narrative that is engaging, yet intimate. Hearst magazine’s David Carey recently told The New York Times, “Sentimentality is probably the biggest enemy for the magazine business,” however, it seems like this exact sort of sentimentality which provides agency may be the key to saving a dying industry.
A new breed of independent magazines created by and for people of color is paving the way for a more specific form of storytelling, highlighting narratives and perspectives that are often glossed over by the prescriptive approach taken by more mainstream publications. In the process, it’s reinforcing the importance and validity of these stories and the communities that create them.
Perhaps the best answer to the nonexistent Vogue Africa, Nataal was founded back in 2015 by editor Sy Alassane, creative director Sara Hemming, and editorial director Helen Jennings (all of whom worked on the Diesel Edun Africa Studio campaign). Nataal exclusively covers homegrown and dispersed African talent.
Congo street style, stories tracing the flow of “fake fashion” from China to Nigeria, and features exploring the various Cape Town subcultures make up some of Nataal’s most interesting reads. As a platform for the Afropolitan community, Nataal takes idealistic notions such as Afrofuturism and eschews them in favor of a more obtainable, but celebrated, outlook.
Native Max Magazine
Native Max Magazine is a digital media company founded in 2012 by Kelly Holmes from the Cheyenne River Lakota. Born out of a frustration for the often negative portrayal of Native Americans in media, Holmes created a platform to feature positive stories and interesting people stemming from contemporary Native American culture.
The media company offers different channels for its wide variety of content. The Edge dictates the latest in style and Native American fashion, while The Insider provides insights into happenings in food, art, and culture. On Radar covers what’s trending in film, television, and books, and In the Mag presents exclusive stories and behind-the-scenes content.
As a freelancer, Qimmah Saafir worked at every publication out there. It was after ceaseless hours of writing and research that Saafir would find herself discouraged – being told her stories on women of color were, “not our direction.” It was out of this frustration of trying in vain to place her stories about marginalized people into mainstream publications that HANNAH was born.
Using a “loosely formulaic” approach, Saffir likens each issue to a time capsule, celebrating black women in the moment. Her ultimate goal, however, is to create a vast archive for her young daughter to read – one that will make her feel acknowledged rather than overlooked. Pages include interviews and features about celebrated women of color including Toyin Ojih Odutola, Ruth Carter, and Joy Bryant.
Founded by Kathleen Tso and Vicki Ho, Banana Magazine “strives to navigate through the blurred Eastern and Western boundaries to create a voice for contemporary Asian culture.” Since they were children, Ho possessed a desire to stand out among her peers while Tso desired to fit in. It was through this contention that Banana Magazine was born.
Referencing a derogatory word for first-generation Asians growing up in the West, Banana strives to bridge the disconnect between Asian-Americans and their roots. With a wide variety of topics that span art, fashion, food, music, and ideas that are derived from Eastern culture, Banana boasts some of the most unique and robust stories out there. Commentary on social issues such as body image and submission is featured alongside recipes for cannabis-influenced Asian cuisine.
From the former managing editor of Nasty Gal, Zarna Surti, Tonal Journal is a publication built around women of color and their often neglected voices. After the 2016 presidential election, Surti felt inspired to start her publication.
“I was trying to figure out how to make my own statement and my own place within everything,” says Surti. While Tonal is dedicated to covering topics relevant to the zeitgeist, in an effort to differentiate itself from its counterparts, each issue centers around one color theme that informs its aesthetic and content.
Neu Neu Media
Neu Neu Media champions diversity in fashion like no other. Not just another “By us, For us” magazine, Neu Neu’s dense arsenal of contributors not only lies at the heart of the black creative community but extends far beyond to create a truly all-encompassing publication. What sets Neu Neu apart from their like-minded peers is the fact that it is entirely derived from the experience of founder Alexis Noelle Barnett.
“This community I’ve amassed of black creatives from around the world is just a result of the diversity of the people, their lives and interests, that I’ve naturally surrounded myself with,” says Barnett. Its recent music issue features artists as prolific and prominent as Dev Hynes, Telfar, and Martine Rose, while its previous issue featured a cover story by Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin.
Inspired by the Latin American Spanish word “cimarrón,” a word with several connotations including “feral animal,” “fugitive,” or “runaway,” Maroon World is built on oppression. Its name is a reference to black men and women who proclaimed themselves “Maroons” after escaping slavery. Founded by Cynthia Cervantes and Travis Gumbs, Maroon World offers a unique perspective into African and Latinx life through a multimedia process that seeks to uncover the underlying themes and ideas present in each community.
One issue, for example, features an unconventional editorial of a mother in Hood By Air breastfeeding her child, a fashionable collage making use of symbolism and imagery heavily rooted in Latinx culture, and a photo series highlighting some of the most pressing issues facing marginalized communities.
The Tenth Zine
“Black, gay and unbothered.” This is the mantra for The Tenth, one of the few independent fashion magazines marketed towards black gay men. The zine is a mix of fashion editorials, photo essays, interviews, and first-person accounts from members of the black LGBTQ+ community. Each issue, however, features a theme that informs the magazine’s content and aesthetics.
“We started with this idea of mastery. We took these dynamic, incredible kids—musicians, Instagram stars, writers—and placed them on this plantation in Louisiana and did the whole costume thing. We thought, ‘What was it like to be gay then?,’” says Khary Septh, Editor-in-Chief. Succeeding themes include “Americana,” “Hollywood,” and “Technology.”
Despite the tendency for many of these publications to serve a specific community or niche, Niijournal explores issues of empowerment and representation as they relate to race as an idea rather than a manifestation. Through a mixture of politically charged art, fashion editorials, moving literature and provocative journalism, Niijournal is a representation of the hardships that marginalized groups have endured and the triumphs and inspiring stories that accompany them.
Founded in 2016 by Campbell Addy under the mantra “here to educate, not irritate,” Niijournal strives to create content that is both personal, yet educational. Stories are often more serious with topics like mental health and extended family dominating each issue.
To extend the tradition of black publishing—one that arguably began in the 1920s with magazines like The Crisis and Fire!!—Jason Parham’s SPOOK Magazine provides an honest account of black and Latinx life. Founded in 2012 as the missing link in culture-focused journalism, SPOOK‘s name reclaims a derogatory term for black people and turns it into a means of empowerment and education.
It’s in this vein of taking something taboo and claiming ownership over it that SPOOK excels at providing an engaging and relatable platform for its readers. Featuring a mix of poetry, literature, photography, and essays, SPOOK serves as an alternative destination for burgeoning storytellers. In the end, Parham has one goal: “I hope to show that our writing is just as good as anybody else’s.”