A Love Letter: An Interview with Ana Cecilia Alvarez

Today, I am speaking with the phenomenally talented writer, wonder woman and low-key wanton sex goddess known as Ana Cecilia Alvarez.

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She is a founding editor-in-chief of bluestockings and oversaw the launch of our website before focusing on her editorial work at Aperture.  A Gemini sun, Aries rising and Leo moon (her chart is actually mostly Leo), she currently edits ADULT Magazine in New York City, teaches sex-ed at the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, and her words have been featured all over cyberspace. She’s written for The New Inquiry, Nerve, ADULT,  The Hairpin, Vice, Dazed, Bullett, Topical Cream, The Daily Beast, Opening Ceremony, Claudius App, and, of course, bluestockings. We last worked together in a panel that she facilitated and organized over at ADULT, “Consent: It’s Not Sexy,” where Sarah Nicole Prickett, Doreen St. Félix, Victoria Campbell, Katie J.M. Barker, Brenton Stokes, and I were in dialogue for over a month to discuss what we talk about when we talk about consent and violence.

I first met Ana in the autumn of 2012, now almost three years ago. Several of us had schemed about forming a feminist publication based out of Brown University’s campus throughout the past year, but Ana was one of three women to forge the fire of its creation, alongside Amy LaCount and Analise Roland. Ana was  visionary, so hard-working and dedicated that every aspect of the arduous editorial process did not escape her keen eyes and dexterous hands. Glamour was not her main motive though it effused throughout her work. She encouraged marginalized people to voice their own struggles and that of their communities, like myself as a transfeminist writer. I knew she would go far, and now, only 24, she already has established herself in the publishing world.

Because of Ana, bluestockings transformed from an idea of publishing as mere words on paper to publishing as an animated lifestyle, a psychical respirator in too-desolate a world: we gathered to drink wine and discuss feminist thinkers, scrapbooked and made zines, held drag parties and open mics, laughed and loved and spoke truth to power, to each other, and, perhaps most importantly, to ourselves. Yet she never compromised on the quality of writing and thought that was published: she would leaf through every article herself to ensure it upheld our commitment to intersectionality so necessary in the times of airbrushed feminism. Bluestockings saved me in one of the worst years of my life, and I am indebted to Ana for her continuous devotion and charm in making bluestockings come to life and vouching for my own work as a trans woman. And it still lives. It has grown beyond, but distinctly because of, her vision. Therefore, almost two years since she left the magazine, it is time to honor her legacy, and learn more about where she’s at and where she’s going. Step aside, Gloria Steinem, Ana Cecilia has arrived.

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Ragna Rök Jóns: Ana, for the readers unfamiliar with your current engagements, what have you been up to in the City for the past year or two?

Ana Cecilia Alvarez: I’ve been dutifully paying rent. And quitting jobs; I’m good at that. Avoiding work. Lot’s of scheming with lovers and friends. Lot’s of reading!!! I finally started watching The Wire (though I haven’t re-watched Sex and The City yet, what’s up with that!?) I got a cat and fell in love.

RRJ: What of your life and love in the City is most memorable to you (for better or worse, real talk)?

ACA: Honestly, I’m over New York (what a New York thing to say!) Or, rather, I’m over goals. Moving to New York was a goal. Working in publishing was a goal. Goal-setting is kind of like grasping; you put your happiness or self-fulfillment or self-actualization or whatever you want to call it in the near-near-future, after you do or get or, at last, become that one thing. And what a tiresome way to live, what a chase! New York is all about the chase, the young sweat, the ambition. The fucking Protestant work ethic. The commute. I’m beginning to unlearn that grasping-mentality that’s been poured into our ears thanks to our Ivy League education. I’m not saying I don’t have dreams (I still want to hang out with Eileen Myles and maybe be financially stable, one day) but I don’t really have ambitions. Like my good friend told me last night, I want to be okay with futility. Or rather I don’t want to create anything out of the fear of being futile. I kinda want to be useless (I want to be an artist mom!). Or lazy. And I want cheaper rent.

RRJ: I remember in 2011 when I was speaking with Sophia Seawell about the need for feminist publishing, as David Sanchez had also done in different venues, only to find to my great pleasure to see the whirlwind of sudden action impelled by yourself and your fellow founding editors in 2012. Can you recount some of those first moments of what has become Bluestockings forming, as you saw it?

ACA: Oh, gosh, I still remember those whirlwind days with such…  *sigh*  We really didn’t know any better, which is why we were able to do what we wanted.  The first moment was on a bus from Providence to Zuccotti Park in October or whenever Occupy “happened.” I was riding with my friend Lily Goodspeed (if you’re reading this Lily, hi!) and we were excited about “feminism.” (I think I had just taken my first Gender Studies class after seeing the work of Hannah Wilke and Lynda Benglis). Mind you, this wasn’t that long ago, but the times were very different—Lily and I felt no one wanted to call themselves a feminist.  Which we thought was totally strange to us. We walked through the Lower East Side and ended up at Bluestockings, the bookstore. Somewhere along that trip, the word bluestockings and the idea of a magazine where we just wrote about feminism stuck. Then I moved to Barcelona for awhile. When I came back, Amy and Analise were on board. I think at the time Amy and were trying to renew Feminist At Brown, which was more of an activist group that hosted several “projects.” Making a magazine was the one that stuck!

RRJ: It must have been a riveting time to come in your as own into feminism. Given how often male-dominated publishing trivializes affect at work, what did this momentum feel like? How has that feeling lingered or changed as you continued into women-centered writing after Brown?

ACA: I was definitely pushing against something when I founded bluestockings. At the time, I was editing The College Hill Independent, which really does excellent work. (Seriously, everyone I know from Brown who is writing and editing worked for the Indy. This is not a coincidence.) But The Indy also smelled of some kind of alienating-hipster-clique-grossness. And no one read it! I felt frustrated there and had this kind of “fuck you” moment where I bet I could start my own magazine, do the writing that I wanted to do, and even invite my own friends. And make it something that not only was circulated, but that grew into a community. That felt like a collaboration. That had legs. And that mattered,or published things that mattered to me. The “gender-aware, feminist-minded” focus came out of that. But what has changed most, for me, is the fervor and necessity of “feminist” writing. Back in 2011 or 2012, “feminist” was not a tag. It wasn’t an adjective people used frequently and with praise. It really was some kind of hushed f-word. Before bluestockings, the Feminist At Brown group was just a bunch of (really rad) grad students having tea every Tuesday night and talking about why they didn’t shave. It felt kind of dead. Then, reviving the f-word felt vital. Now it feels…. trite. It feels “branded.” It feels sold.

RRJ: I believe one of the greatest strengths of bluestockings has not only been its adaptability, across different media forms and modes of thought, twining these various intersections in politics and practices, but perhaps more importantly its steadfast commitment to transmedia outreach. As we’ve seen with the wave conceptions of feminism, more of a discursive historiography in media development than any progressivist myth of White Women Did It First, the digital has reconfigured feminism and publishing immensely. What sort of possibilities and perils do you see in this general and specifically transmedia adaptability in how it has (or hasn’t) revitalized new economies and currencies of thought and coin?

ACA:  I can see both gains and losses from where I sit. Digital media means more voices are given access, more can be proliferated. It’s a sort of democratizing process—everyone can have a say. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is heard. Meanwhile, the lure of profitability plagues digital media— ad sales beget click bait, sponsored content drains resources. Worse, the very narratives we once upheld are now more and more often co-opted for means which undermine their “subversiveness,” for lack of a better word.

RRJ: I agree with this lure of profitability and democracy in digital media; since the inception of cyberspace, the Internet has been marketed as a final frontier of freedom: that is, if you can afford the digital bandwagon west, unhindered by any sort of “digital divide”,  On a different note, with regards to ADULT magazine’s sudden popularity, what do you think this new media moment has allowed for an avant-erotica publishing center to blossom like an orgasm, cyclically, irregularly, yet so fully in flesh as much as utterance?

ACA:  I wouldn’t call it sudden! ADULT’s “success” (however this is measured?) came after lot of clever scheming and a certain direction, a certain taste, that refuses to compromise. I can’t say there’s anything about “this moment” that makes ADULT more or less possible, outside of, like, the Internet existing. In a lot of ways,  we try to not be of the moment (I mean WHO in their right minds start a magazine in 2014?) which is why I suspect people pay attention to us.

RRJ: By sudden, perhaps I mean capturing or captivating: unlike so many tried-and-trash “let’s make a magazine” moments, ADULT feels riveting, necessary, like the build-up before climax. That is one element of ADULT that I have come to appreciate: reading the print issues feels like foreplay to me, luxuriating languidly, unphased by the click-and-profit ubiquity in today’s decidedly digital publishing world that almost feels like some sort of phallogocentrism rebranded. What sort of advice would you give to folks trying to create change with media and publishing?

ACA: Get ready to hustle. Know when to work for free, and when to ask for pay. And when your friends have cool ideas and ask to work with you, say yes! Oh, and be kind. Word travels fast.

RRJ: If you could tell every girl younger than you one thing, what would it be?

ACA:  Kill your idols.

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