Riffing on Midriff

Right: Steph Ades. Left: JR Atkinson

Right: Steph Ades. Left: JR Atkinson

On a breezy fall afternoon, I met JR Atkinson and Steph Ades in the warm enclave of our campus’s student run-coffee shop. After several months of writing thoughtful essays for Reverberations, JR became our newest editor. Yet, in the spirit of Reverberations, which prizes artistic intersections and responses, JR’s role at Reverb isn’t her only gig; she is also one of the founding editors of Midriff Magazine, Wesleyan University’s new womxn-focused arts and lit publication. Speaking to her and her co-founder Steph, I learned about why they think the stories of young women are important to share both in general and in the current political moment. Overall, the inspired and energetic way they discussed their new publication reminded me of the joys of starting a fledgling publication from scratch. As a founding editor of Reverberations, it reminded me of the early days (nearly two years ago) when Linne Halpern and I designed this very website and sat side by side crafting our mission statement. And ultimately, though our formats and focuses are different, Reverberations and Midriff share one fundamental commonality: The desire to uplift the stories of young people.

Sage Marshall: What prompted you to start Midriff?

Steph Ades: JR had the idea. We didn’t see a women-centered publication on campus even though there are very specific Wesleyan publications. We also just like the idea of putting together a magazine about young women’s experiences. 

JR Atkinson: Yeah, we both were in our rooms late at night writing stuff that we felt like we wanted to say but didn’t have a place to put it. So, we wanted to create a home for the stuff that was keeping us up at night.

SM: What would you say is distinct about the experiences of young women that makes good art for your publication?

JRA: We’re at a time in our lives where we’re in between a lot of things and grappling with our identities. Being a young girl, there are a lot of expectations on what you should be doing and what you should be like, and what kind of music you should like, etcetera.

SA: Something that’s really interesting to me is the hyper-awareness that comes with being an adolescent girl. Most women at this age are hyper-aware all the time — because you have to be. You’re put under such a microscope. So, it becomes hyper-awareness of ourselves as well as of what other people are thinking and feeling.  

SM: We’re living in a strange political time…I’m curious about how you think the art in your publication is related to politics? Is it a particularly important time to be sharing the voices of young women?

SA: Yeah, I think it is. There’s a weird dissonance between the fact that we’re more liberated than we have been in history, and yet it doesn’t seem like that. Like, we seem to have more power than women in previous generations, and then you look at Kavanaugh and realize that nobody cares what women say or think in the large scale of things. There’s something to elevating the microscopic experiences of being young women.

JRA: We’re a very specific generation in that way. We’re very politically and socially conscious, but it’s interesting to grapple with those ideas while growing up ourselves. I think the art and writing in Midriff are inherently a product of this environment, whether or not they deal with political issues explicitly.

SM: So, you’ve published one issue and are working on another. Out of everything in the last issues, were there any pieces that represent the epitome of Midriff’s style?

SA: My favorite piece is called “Losing My Virginity” (pg 29). It’s a really short and funny but beautiful prose poem. I just loved it. There was so much that fit into one paragraph.

JRA: Yeah, me too. In such a short space, the piece has so many hypocrisies and different contradictions. I think this is a huge part of our ethos as a magazine — being contradictory. It was anonymously submitted…so I can’t give credit to anyone.

SM: Growing up, what inspired you to start making art and writing?

JRA: I’ve written about this for Reverberations, but I owe a big debt of gratitude to Rookie Mag and Tavi Gevinson. It was a website that shared art by and for young women. It was really important to see that other people were going through the same kinds of things that I was.

SA: I was a big book kid. Like it should, what I read changed, and how I felt about it changed. I was also a big music and art kid, so I was really interested in how everything could be inspired by and respond to one another. 

SM: What are your hopes for the collaboration between Reverberations and Midriff?

JRA: It feels really natural. The stuff I’ve written for and read from Reverberations deals a lot with growing up and how the art we consume is a huge part of that. It’s really natural to share this kind of writing with Midriff as well.

SA: I hope it brings us things that we wouldn’t have gotten before. A lot of people want to write personal essays for Midriff but don’t think of including art.  

SM: Who are some women artists who are making work that’s inspiring you right now? 

SA: Mitski, always Mitski.

JRA: For some reason, she defines the specific moment of being a college student in 2018.

SA: Yeah, she fits a lot into the short songs.

JRA: Her presence on social media, too, is really funny and self-aware.

SA: I don’t even know if I follower her on Twitter…

JRA: You have to!

SA: There are a lot of really talented, like casual women singer-songwriters right now.

SM: What do you mean by casual?  

SA: There’s a kind of nonchalance to it.

JRA: It’s interesting to think about this in the larger context of women making rock music. It’s been a protest art form from the 90s on. Maybe, we’re getting to a place where it’s a quieter rebellion than just being inflammatory…

SA: It’s almost like they’re taking the right to be nonchalant, which I think is really cool.

SM: So, what are your ultimate goals with Midriff?

JRA: I just want to turn it into something that people want to be a part of. 

SA: Yeah, I want it to be a really lasting and open creative outlet.

Midriff Magazine is seeking writing and visual art submissions from anyone who identifies with womxnhood/feminity. They encourage submissions of art of any form! Please send submissions to sades@wesleyan.edu or jatkinson@wesleyan.edu. Rough draft deadline: October 30. Final deadline: November 13.

Midriff and Reverberations are also currently collaborating using a shared prompt: Write about your relationship to the work of an artist in any artform (music, movies, books, etc.) from the first-person perspective. How did their work personally affect you? How has your relationship to their work changed/grown? We’re especially looking for pieces that deal with adolescence/growing up and womxnhood. We encourage non-traditional forms of response (poetry, visual art, lists, etc.). The resulting work will be published both in Midriff Magazine's next issue and online in Reverberations Mag. We encourage anyone who identifies with this prompt to submit to us at Reverberationsmag@gmail.com.