There are several new editorial platforms that are launching at the moment. One of the most exciting, in my opinion, is run by Danielle A. Jackson. It’s called Hive, and it’ll be launching later this month through Longreads. Below, Danielle explains what it is, what we can expect from it, and walks me through her elaborate editing process.
What is Hive?
Hive is a digital series, anthology, or zine of women and femme people writing about music. Longreads is the publisher, so the pieces are narratives—with characters and plot, basically all the elements of a story—and are from 1,500 to 4,000 words in length. They also contain a critical examination of a musical artifact—a song, a scene, a specific performance. I asked each writer to select an artifact that was memorable, indelible, even. So much so that it changed, expanded, or came to define something about how they now listen to music, as fans, as critics, or, preferably, both.
The music I love most allows me to tap into an emotional register I perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s a reflection and a pathway, an articulation and conduit. While each of the pieces has a critical element, the sense and emotional experiences of the narrator are just as important. The pieces have an arc, a sense of a journey, and billow out into a universally applicable lesson that the music enabled.
Women are underrepresented, missing even, in many areas of influence and power in the music industry—as journalists, songwriters, producers, and executives. But they’ve long played important roles as consumers and trend makers. This is especially true of Black teenage femmes, whose tastes and creative responses to what they love eventually become adapted and float up to the mainstream. You don’t get Beatlemania without teenage girls, or Sam Cooke without swooning adolescents like my mother, who remembers slow dancing to “You Send Me” in junior high. You don’t get Lizzo, as a phenomenon, without Mina Lionness.
I wanted this series to confront that disconnect, to live in and explore the tension between the swarm or hive, the crowd of girls and femmes who form the base of pop trends, and the critical male voice that has shaped the “formal,” “legitimate” interpretation of music culture. The voice and perspective you learn to apply when you go to school, or when you work for a publication. I used the name “hive” because it’s a word we append, now, colloquially, to the end of an admired person’s name to denote how much we adore their work. To my knowledge, this started with Beyoncé’s fans calling themselves the Beyhive, but folks on Twitter use it to claim allegiance to any artist or cultural product they love. Basically, I want to reclaim fandom, the blackness of it, the girlishness of it, and use it in generative ways to think about what music can do and mean.
When thinking about Hive as an material object or a body of work I took inspiration from riot grrl era zines, modernist magazines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries like The Colored American, viral vines, the early years of Tumblr, and the outpouring of very personal yet analytically rigorous writing that came after Aretha Franklin died in 2018.
Why did you start it?
Women still struggle in systemic ways within the institutions that publish music criticism, and Black people and all people of color struggle in journalism more broadly. I’m thinking of the reports of Eric Sunderman and Andy Cohn, formerly at the Fader and the culture at Vice, for example—these specific abuses of power that cause and enable the disparities in representation of women and POC within publishing—as well as the broader problem and its implications. The American Society for News Editors (ASNE) reports that less than 3% of US journalists are Black women. We’ve always had these disparities—that’s why independent Black presses were founded in the first place. But as various economic downturns have decimated the business of journalism, the industry’s diversity, multiplicity, and vibrancy have continued to suffer.
What that means is the stories we’re telling and the ways we’re contextualizing culture do not sync up with where the work and activity comes from. I just felt like I could do more to produce and probe into what I wish we were probing into, with a kind of depth and care that I felt was often missing.
Who is involved in Hive?
As editor of the series, I came up with the concept and a dream list of contributors. And I’m in the weeds with each piece as they’re filed. Longreads has an amazing, thorough editorial team with fact checkers and copy editors so the pieces will be handled with the appropriate rigor and care through every stage.
I gave potential contributors a description of the series and let them choose what or who they wanted to write about. I reached out to folks whose work was, to me, stirring. And I wanted writers who seemed to hold an equal reverence for artists or musicians AND the constellation of collaborators and family and friends and supporters that surrounds them. So we have, among others: the writer, editor, and critic Niela Orr on Whitney Houston and Robyn Crawford’s relationship as an alternative model of intimacy; writer and editor Eryn Loeb on her years as a teenager in the straight edge scene in her hometown; Carina del Valle Schorske on Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin’s duet of “Ooh Baby Baby” on a 1979 episode of “Soul Train”; Jessica Lynne on Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and a long distance affair; DJ Lynnée Denise on her long term appreciation of soul-funk-crunk artist Joi. All of the essays give context to the music, but they’re also respectful and in solidarity with the cultures from which these very singular and gifted artists emerged.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I’ve been writing and creating stories since I was a little girl. I was a child actress, and I honestly think that’s when I started wanting to analyze and really live with texts—books, music, films. I studied economics and international relations in college and had some internships where I did policy writing, but iI began writing as a creative and journalistic endeavor for money a few years after graduation. I reviewed a book on hip hop by William Jelani Cobb for Mosaic, an independent black literary journal out of the Bronx run by Ron Kavanaugh. That was 12 years ago, and I’ve been working steadily since then. I started editing at Longreads in 2017.
Walk me through a typical day-to-day.
There’s more administrative work than some might think. So I’m often answering emails, making sure writers get paid, having phone check-ins with writers. I like to work in chunks of tasks, so I can go deep into editing a piece, sometimes spreading its pages out over the floor, for uninterrupted amounts of time. And I also write for the site, which for me requires a different way of looking at the page than editing. Writing may also require a good amount of research or interviewing, but I like to set aside full days, if possible, where I can work on writing assignments. Most weeks I’m toggling between administration and planning, editing, and writing, but, again, with long stretches of time dedicated to each.
Describe your basic approach to editing a typical piece.
I typically take an initial read through a draft and make only very cursory changes, for example correcting typos or spelling errors or making small word choice adjustments. Then on another pass, I’ll focus on the text’s ideas and ask questions that may help clarify them. I’ll print out pieces for another pass, and think about structure, coherence, and flow, and then another pass with more questions, possibly, but mostly for edits on the level of the line. I’m a collaborative editor, at least I like to think I am, so at that point I’ll hand it back over to the writer, and we’ll just go back and forth for as long as it takes until we both feel the piece answers what the writer sought out to answer as beautifully as possible. I'd like to add that I’m still learning and growing as an editor and I think this approach is highly subject to change.
What's your favorite part of the job?
I love when a collaboration with another person, either a writer or an editor, becomes thrilling and helps both of us grow our skills or just really nourishes and animates us. Writing is solitary. I think an advantage of working on longform is there are sustained relationships with people that are necessary to get the work out. That kind of collaboration is a built-in antidote to a solitude that can at times be harmful.
What artist or trend are you most interested in right now?
I’m really interested in young women R&B vocalists right now, so folks in the spotlight already like Ari Lennox and Summer Walker, and less well-known artists like Katarra Parsons from St. Louis and have been thinking a lot about how they’re connected to the funk vocalists of the 70s and I guess the 90s and even before that, the blues women of early in the twentieth century, while still being very much tethered to the present day. These women manage to be futuristic, timeless, and timely, all at once, and really work the groove of a song in a way that gets into the marrow.
What was the best track / video or film / book you've consumed in the past year?
Right now I really adore Syd’s offering on the Queen and Slim soundtrack, the groove and feeling of it. And I think The Yellow Housewas one of the most important pieces of storytelling in any medium to appear in the past few years.
Anything you want to plug?
Hive launches sometime this month!