Design by Leah Hoogterp

The first time you came across Rookie’s website, it was already a graveyard. It was March 2020, you had a surplus of free time on your hands, and you were reading interviews with Elizabeth Meriwether, the creator of the sitcom New Girl. Upon first glance, Rookie’s website appeared anything but dead: an online magazine by and for teenagers.

Created by Tavi Gevinson in 2011, the vivacious teal-and-white site features thoughtful art and writing pertinent to the current zeitgeist. As you read further, you were charmed by the frank yet playful writing by Emma Straub; you spent the rest of your night scrolling through the interview series “Why Can’t I Be You?” It was easy to get lost in the mix of readers, journalists and celebrities remarking on pop culture, feminism and adolescence, with their art sharing honest experiences of friendship, sex, art and life: things that felt so prescient but seldom acknowledged genuinely. Upon further inspection of the website, it becomes clearer that Rookie folded in 2018; a thin red banner sticks to the top of the screen, stressing as you scroll that “THIS IS AN ARCHIVE. THIS SITE IS NO LONGER BEING UPDATED.” Upon realizing this, you were overtaken by a passing wave of loneliness for the next few days: How could this adolescent hub of imagination, whose pulse was so loud to you that it seemed almost deafening, already be dead before you could see it alive?

You found Rookie a few weeks before your 18th birthday, at the tail end of your legally-bestowed childhood — before the reality of the pandemic set in, and when momentary relief from the absence of in-person work outweighed long-term devastation for many. You read the essay “A Fork in the Road” by Upasna Barath when you began to question your college major, listened intently to the Rookie podcast with Lisa Hanawalt while re-watching “Bojack Horseman,” and scrolled through issues archives, desperate to know more.

You spent days clicking through the origins of the Live Through This category, overcome with respect for the authors who managed to so eloquently make maps for those who came seeking to overcome traditional and new growing pains after feeling around in the dark for so long. The content was fun, but also took readers (mostly teenage girls) seriously, while simultaneously accepting them as they were, all at the same time — you know how rare this is. You never felt like a good teenager. You never broke out of your shell, reading Rookie late into the night, the brightness of the screen searing your eyes, while days that were supposed to make the high school experience worth it, like prom and graduation, passed in quarantine. So much of high school was spent feeling like you weren’t close enough to the ideal person, and until you finally do make it there, you assume you are worthless. Reading Rookie Magazine felt different, though, because it was always full of love for its readers. Not conditional, like everything felt back then, not because you were the best, or you took up the least space, but because you were alive and thoughtful and full of love.

You still don’t know if you can articulate why Rookie was so fascinating to you, beyond the obvious joy and acceptance of its art. Rookie was never about the “best” piece of writing; it was about finding beauty in the stories that teens expressed out of love for their communities and craft itself, quietly firm expressions of humanity that made you feel a little less alone, in their explorations of everything from writer’s block, birth control, graduating high school and much, much more. Scrolling through issues made you see the impact that magazines could have on their audience: Unfamiliar with this philosophy, you were freshly done with architecture college applications and receiving your International Baccalaureate Visual Arts grades — to you, art was still a zero-sum game. Rookie is the first place where you began to question the competition you were instilled with.

Gevinson writes that Rookie “had been founded, in part, as a response to feeling constantly marketed to in almost all forms of media; to being seen as a consumer rather than a reader or person.” Viewing the reader as a consumer, and therefore, the writer as a producer removes the human irrationality that is critical to art. The words of Rookie impressed you because they made your, and so many others’, inner worlds real: They took off the pressure to be something widely-loved and easy to stomach. This active defiance of artistic worth made all the difference; suddenly, speaking didn’t seem so alienating anymore. Slowly, you made your way through your first year of college and began to release your grip on the ties you held in your childhood so tightly that your wrists burned. The archived website wasn’t a sign of what you missed anymore, but a memory that shows you what art can be. 

Now you carry a little bit of Rookie in your pocket wherever you go. Sustaining the magazine was clearly an exhausting amount of labor, and Rookie struck gold with its investors that allowed the site to remain free of charge (though it was overwhelmed with advertisements and influence from large media companies hoping to bend the site to their will), but you can’t help it: The childish part of you still waits, still holds out hope that history’s reiteration of Rookie will appear soon. You can’t help it; you scramble when you see a new New Yorker essay by Tavi, you press play immediately for an episode from Barath’s hibernating “Wait for It” podcast, you sift for Roxane Gay’s Goodreads reviews because you know how funny she is from the Rookie podcast. Because, my god, you don’t think you’ve seen a purer labor of community care that you can understand. Rookie is dead now, and you are long gone, but spirits are celebrated. If you see young Tavi and the old Rookie team, make sure to give them your thanks for giving you a place to stay for a while.

Daily Arts Writer Meera Kumar can be reached at kmeera@umich.edu.