Magnified: Nobody


Posted 3 months ago in Magazine

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Nobody is a magazine that strives to tell stories about everything else. Its co-founders Sami Emory and Tessa Love tell us why stories often overlooked are the ones they are most passionate about.

 

Why did you decide to create Nobody and how did you come to know each other in the first place? Where did the intriguing title come from?

T & S: Back in 2018, we were both new to Berlin and looking for friends. We met through a writing group of sorts and late one winter night, we found ourselves at a bar, just the two of us. We didn’t know each other that well at this point, and so we naturally reverted to a safe topic: the depressing state of the media landscape. This in turn led to us expressing our mutual frustration over the difficulty of getting the kinds of stories we wanted to work on out into the world.

Eventually, we discovered that both of us had latent dreams of starting an indie magazine, but – for various reasons – had never taken the plunge. By our third drink, that realization turned into a decision: to start that magazine together and create a space for those stories – the slower kind, more focused on the emotional; on everyday experiences. We came up with the name Nobody that night, partly based on the fact that we ourselves were a couple of nobodies, but also because it encapsulated that same ethos: that a good story is worth telling, whether there’s a big name attached to it or not.

Writers are pretty famous for coming up with ‘Big Plans’ over a few too many drinks in the back of smokey bars, but something about this idea just stuck. So while it did take us a while to get our first issue out in the world, it was a project we both really believed in: it wouldn’t let us quit. We just kept working on it – across continents and throughout a pandemic – and became close friends in the process.

 

You stated in the first edition that, “The stories we love to write and read aren’t ‘cool’ either. Which in practical terms means: they don’t sell well.” Can you share some examples of stories you have published which subscribe to this theory?

T: In our careers as journalists, we came up against the frustrating fact over and over again that editors at major magazines were mostly interested in the newsworthiness of a story rather than its narrative richness. The kinds of stories we both wanted to write had nothing to do with big names or big world events, and so we often found that the pieces we were most passionate often ended up sitting on the proverbial shelf gathering dust.

A perfect example of this is Sami’s story in issue two titled ‘The Bone Digger of Ten Sleep.’ Sami reported this story about an amateur bone digger in 2018 but found that – unlike us – many editors didn’t find this man’s story compelling enough on its own and wanted more of a timely hook. The story never lost its luster for Sami, though, and when we chose ‘Ghost’ as our theme for issue 2, it was a perfect fit. Now we believe the story serves as the ultimate proof of concept: those stories that may not land in a major publication are still captivating, deep, and worth telling, and have a lot to teach us about what it means to be human.

Beyond that one story, when we commission pieces, we always encourage writers to send us their own gems from the reject pile, or pieces that they never even attempted to place anywhere. We won’t name names, but we will say that some of our favorite contributions have come from this method – and some that we’re excited about in issue 3 will, too.

 

There is a charming randomness to what you are covering from amateur fossil diggers to lost cassettes of Syrian music – is this an intentional part of your commissioning process?

T: Absolutely. While we do like to unify things under a singular (though loose) theme, we don’t want things to get monotonous. One of our goals in producing Nobody was to create a true general-interest magazine. That means we are open to and interested in a wide range of topics, styles, formats, and voices. Additionally, our mission to publish stories you won’t find elsewhere means we have a special place in our hearts for the random and the eccentric – in addition to encouraging our contributors to send us their castaways, we also encourage them to get experimental and creative, and to avoid well-trodden territory.

 

The author and perfumer Tanaïs discusses being a non-Black person of color in America and a non-Indian Muslim, South Asian and then added, “It’s like, I’m a lot of “non things.” Non-binary. But I don’t see myself as a “non” anything. Like I am fully the being that I am. I just cannot be categorized under hegemony.” That stopped us in our tracks and felt so right seeing it articulated for the first time. Can you share other personal moments from Nobody which made your hearts pump with pride?

S: We absolutely love that conversation – a real gem from issue one. This is a hard question because I think we both could nerd out about each and every thing we’ve ever published. For instance, in issue one, we have a piece called Quarantine Confessions, which is a collection of secrets – dirty, funny, sad, beautiful, and everything in between – that our wonderful contributor Shimeko Franklin crowd-sourced via her Instagram stories in the midst of the pandemic. Tessa, who used to get her hair cut by Shimeko in Oakland, saw these stories and immediately sent me a barrage of screenshots. That little moment of kismet turned into one of our favorite pieces, and an ongoing ‘confessional’ series for the mag.

 

In issue two, meanwhile, we had the pleasure of editing a few of our very dearest friends across three beautiful pieces. One of these, Josie Parkinson’s Half a Bottle of Whiskey and Forty Cigarettes, was another really unique process. Josie is a writer and filmmaker, but she’s also an incredible stand-up comedian. And so while this is a deeply personal piece, it is also infused with her particular sense of humor.

In the editing process, we asked her to try something different. Instead of putting together a more traditional personal essay, we wanted to *hear* her voice. If you read that piece, I think you can feel that: as if you’re hearing her deliver these thoughts and feelings, with her special mix of vulnerability and charisma, in the corner of a crowded party.

 

What have you learned about the world of publishing since creating Nobody?

T: We’ve learned that it’s tough being an indie magazine! As a fully independent publication that does not rely on advertising or any other form of funding, sales of the magazine are our only source of income, and we’ll admit that that’s a tough way to make it. The publishing world isn’t set up for projects like this one, and so it’s largely a labour of love.

Knowing this first-hand, it makes us appreciate small magazines even more, and have deep respect for the ones that are able to keep creating and innovating.

 

What has been the most satisfying thing you have experienced since establishing Nobody?

S: There have been so many of these moments – from holding our magazine for the first time after more than two years of work, to getting the chance to collaborate with our truly talented contributors.

But if I had to narrow it down, I do distinctly remember the feeling of shock I had when, in following up with our stockists a few months after releasing issue one, I learned that nearly all of them had sold out of the mag. Up until that point, it had all felt so hypothetical. Even after the magazine had been printed, even after we’d sent it out to various buyers and stores, it didn’t feel like a given to either of us that the concept would resonate with others. So learning that there were X many people who had wandered into those shops and had chosen our magazine was such an incredible feeling. To us, this was probably one of the first times that we were able to accept that the thing we had made actually made sense to other people too, and that they liked what they saw and what they read.

 

Failure and Ghosts were loose themes for your first two issues. Where is Issue 03 at and can you share any insights into a theme and what we can expect?

T & S: We are deep in the process of working on Issue 3, which is slated to come out late spring, early summer 2024. The theme is ‘Burning’ which is another loose one – despite what ideas the word may conjure up, there are no stories about fire or even heat in the traditional sense. Instead, we have pieces about lust, cigarettes, critters, deep space, and beyond. And like our previous issues, you can expect a wide range of formats, from oral histories and interviews to illustrated essays and even our first poem.

 

What do you both do in the ‘day job’?

 

T & S: We are both still writers, but since founding Nobody, we’ve both stepped back from the journalism world. Now we work as content and ghost writers, and pour most of our creative energy into our magazine and other side projects.

 

You are both based in Berlin at the moment. Is it still where it’s at?

T & S: Yes! We both still live in and love Berlin, and we’ve proudly made it Nobody’s home, too.

Issue no. 1 & 2 are now available, €15 each

nobodyzine.com

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