Better Know A Blogger: Jenna Sauers
"At first I did a kind of diaristic occasional column for the site about modeling, under a pseudonym, but after about 18 months I "came out" and began writing under my own name."
Before embarking upon a writing career, Jenna Sauers worked in front of the lens as a model, booking numerous shoots for magazines and catalogues in various locales around the world. She then abruptly left it behind. Well, not entirely… Her first writing gig? Writing for female interest/Gawker spin-off site Jezebel and sharing anonymous tales of the modeling industry. However, she outed herself before long and began to contribute to the website under her own name on various topics and issues concerning the fashion industry. Born and raised in New Zealand "with stints in France, Morocco and Geneva, Switzerland," the 26-year-old freelancer now lives in New York and contributes to New York Times, the Village Voice, the New York Observer, Bookforum, Jalouse, and Surface Asia in addition to blogging for Jezebel. Here she gives us insight on herself as a person, the contrast between writing and modeling, what she does outside of blogging and what's on the horizon.
How would you describe yourself?
Jenna Sauers: I'm a gangly broad with big ideas. I always wear sunscreen (and I'd prefer it if you did, too). I get scrappy when I drink the dark liquors.
How would you describe your role at Jezebel?
I contribute to the site around ten times a week — much less frequently than a full-time blogger, but more than most freelancers. I write a daily fashion news roundup, Rag Trade, a weekly fashion and beauty Do It Yourself column, and cover other fashion-related stories. I try to be entertaining and informative, and I try to use my more flexible schedule to occasionally, you know, pick up the phone and actually talk to a source. God, that sounds really boring when you write it all out like that.
How would you describe your readership?
Primarily the many young, clever, funny, educated women whose talents are grossly underutilized at their office jobs, I'd say.
How long have you been writing and what made you start writing for Jezebel?
I've been writing more or less my whole life. As a kid in primary school, when I had come up with a draft I really liked, I would make it into a "book" by writing my story out very carefully on the blank pages of a spare notebook. I'd do all the illustrations. And I'd put paper over the notebook cover and draw a title, author's name, and illustration there. I had a lot of those "books." I started submitting to literary journals when I was 11 or so; I never mentioned my age, but most of them probably had some idea I was just a kid. I got a lot of rejection, but my first short story was published when I was 13. I won a national play-writing competition for high schoolers when I was 14. I wrote a really bad novel when I was 17 and studying abroad and homesick for New Zealand. At the University of Iowa, I discovered that there was this entire world of literature that happened to not be fiction, and I started reading Joan Didion's essays like a fiend and taking every class on essays and essay-writing that I could. I also wrote for the student newspaper, and got a job as a copy-editor there and later a section editor. That was great experience — especially the copy-editing. I did a couple internships in magazines and publishing as a student, and applied to about 80 writing-related jobs when I graduated. I didn't get a single interview, so I went back to modeling for a couple years. Jezebel was the first time in my adult life that a cold pitch actually worked: not knowing a soul at the site, I sent the tips line an email on a kind of now-or-never whim just before getting on a flight to New York, where I was going to work my first NY fashion week. By the time I had landed, I had an email back and a voicemail from the great Moe Tkacik, who was then at the site, and who became my editor and my friend. At first I did a kind of diaristic occasional column for the site about modeling, under a pseudonym, but after about 18 months I "came out" and began writing under my own name.
What has the transition from modeling to full time writer been like?
Pretty awesome! I loved a lot of things about modeling — I did it for years, and while my career was thoroughly unspectacular, I learned a lot, had opportunities to travel, and was able to work with and befriend some uniquely talented people. Especially some very creative women in the field. I was very fortunate. But to be completely honest, I find writing a lot more personally fulfilling. And in writing, nobody's "old" at 25. So that's nice.
What are your favorite topics to write about?
I'm interested in the modeling industry, obviously. And I like covering the fashion industry and its intersections with race, class, immigration, and other cultural trends. Fashion and its place in the socioeconomic register. I'm less of a this-season's-hemline-is kind of person — although the stereotype that all that goes into fashion writing is hemline reporting is kind of a bunch of B.S. anyway — and more of a who-makes-this-and-where-and-who-profits kind of person.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
Right now, I'm working on a story loosely involving new patterns of immigration and the construction of race within the modeling industry. Unrelated to journalism, I am also a proud board member of a new nonprofit called the Model Alliance. We're a labor rights group for models and other fashion industry freelancers — and this is an industry that relies on a vast pool of freelance labor — working to give them more of a voice in their work. We're growing every week, and we have some wonderful supporters, like Coco Rocha and Milla Jovovich. And if you like the look of our mission you should definitely give us money.
When you're not blogging/writing, what fills your time?
Reading, mostly. The last book I finished was Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be — I ripped through it in about four days, it's so good. I'm also reading a galley of Kate Zambreno's forthcoming Heroines, which is partly a memoir and partly a profound literary investigation into the contributions of the overlooked and forgotten women of Modernism. The WAGs of the movement, basically. I just finished her novel "Green Girl" and interviewed her for Bookforum, which was so much fun. (She writes a great blog, too.) And I think I was just press-ganged into an Infinite Jest summer reading club, so I guess I'm going to read that. I also love to sew — that helps, given the whole DIY column thing — and in the summers I take any opportunity to leave New York that I can. I either head out to Fire Island or upstate, and I have a policy of accepting literally any assignment that involves travel.
What are 5 of your favorite Jezebel posts you've contributed?
A review of Joan Didion's new memoir, Blue Nights