BlacQurl: An Interview with Jovonna Jones and Sammie Scott

(Image: BlacQurl.com)

(Image: BlacQurl.com)

In an age where anything can be created literally out of thin air, Emory alumnae Jovonna Jones 15C and Samantha Scott 15C are carving out their own space in the digital world. Creating a space for Black women, girls, and femmes to express their unique narratives and creativity has continued the pathway of producing a multiplicity of voices in the realm of art and media. Only a few short months from earning their Emory diplomas, the two college besties formed BlacQurl. The following is an interview showcasing everything from how they started the platform to what it means to be “a free Black woman living on your own terms.” 

Black Star Magazine: How would you describe BlacQurl?

Jovonna Jones:  Pretty much, when you visit our site, you’re entering a room of Black girls absorbing and discussing art & media on our terms. You’ll hear about dope new music, engaging films, captivating artwork, complicated cultural happenings, etc. Sometimes we invite guests (in the form of Q&As and podcast specials), and other times, we just contemplate our own experiences as writers, actors, visual artists, and screenwriters (like in “Confessions of an Almost-Actress”). It’s a platform to promote more energy and engagement around the creative works Black women produce.

Sammie Scott: BlacQurl is a space by, for, and about Black girls + art and media. We make, analyze, and critique art and media with Black women, girls, and femmes at the center.

BSM: Which digital and/or print publications do you look to for inspiration in curating the site?

JJ: For our communal aims, I look towards The Madbury Club and Crunk Feminist Collective. Madbury and CFC became the go-to collectives for insights on their respective interests: music/design/culture, and social commentary/popular culture/Black feminism. Essentially, these folks knew their ideas meant something—even if just to each other.

For our emphasis on Black women’s voices, I’m inspired by Fashion Bomb Daily, For Harriet, and of course, Essence Magazine. These sites always remind me why Black women are so f*cking important in every facet of life. We need fulfilling spaces that cater to us in all our identities and interests.

For art /media, I’m greatly influenced by The Fader, Contemporary&, and Fashion Bomb Daily. Each site makes art/media accessible, from music to contemporary art to style. They foster space for the celebrities and the little-known. They promote, they question, and they celebrate. They provide original features and comment on the stuff everyone might already be talking about. 

SS: Man oh man, there are many. Ebony, Essence, For Harriet, Very Smart Brothas, Mater Mea, Rookie, The Fader, Broadly, Racked, The Establishment, Teen Vogue, Mask Magazine, and more. Some for design and aesthetics, some the content, and some for both. Oh and of course I looked back at a lot of the work I did for Black Star!

BSM:What was the process like in establishing this digital platform?

JJ: At first, it was terrifying. I was really excited about the idea and I felt like it was necessary, but as soon as you go online, it seems like someone else is already doing it. Or, that we aren’t good enough to pull it off. Imposter syndrome is real AF, yo. There are so many things I thought we’d have to lock down in order to make our site worth visiting or our voices worth hearing—do we have enough followers on Twitter or Likes on FB? Does our site look streamlined so it's like we’re already on your ish even though we’re just starting out? Do we even have any authority or ~clout~ to speak on art & media?

Sammie and I had so many conversations about all these anxieties, and I’m glad we could be so open about it from the jump. Once we got past the doubts, we remembered the blogs/platforms we grew up reading (and still read to this day). We remembered why those places felt so special, and what made us seek out their content without needing Twitter or FB to facilitate. Ultimately, blogs/digital publications called attention to topics that mattered to a group of folks, no matter how big or small. Whenever I found a site that spoke to my interests, I felt my world open up just a bit more.

If Sammie and I were struggling to find a digital space to just contemplate and call attention to other Black women creators, we knew we couldn’t have been the only ones.

In regards to the mechanics of this whole thing, the process of establishing BlacQurl has been pretty chill. Sammie and I have worked together on so many things: publications, class papers, communal spaces. So, BlacQurl just flowed out of all that we had learned individually and together thus far about content strategy, website platforms (Weebly, Squarespace, etc.), promotion, management, networks, etc.

It also really helped that Sammie and I share very similar values as it pertains to Black women and creative spaces, but pursue different professional paths. She’s more into design and media strategy, while I’m into writing and scholarship. Our skills definitely overlap, but we usually don’t have much conflict regarding who does what. We stay in our lanes, and that helps us to stay focused.

By far, the most rewarding aspect of growing this digital platform is being able to establish more space for other Black woman culture writers to produce work and actively engage artists. It is really tough to write about art & media in fresh and engaging ways, especially if you’re not in a program or working with a mentor who can train you. So, at the very least, BlacQurl allows me, Sammie, and the four other BQ writers to try out new ideas, co-edit, and consistently practice our craft. 

SS: A lot of text messages, emails, Google chats and FaceTimes. A lot of naming and claiming – choosing and buying a domain name, housing the site (#shoutout to SquareSpace), getting on social, etc. Another huge part was being brave enough to talk about BlacQurl IRL with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers.

BSM:What do you think is the importance of providing a space for Black women’s narratives, creativity, and intellectuality?

JJ: I hate to quote directly from the site, but I don’t know another way to say it!

“Frankly, racial/gender inequity in the art & media world limits when, where, and how Black woman artists are seen, heard, and actively supported on a daily basis. Yet still, Bflack women constantly redefine the possibilities of creative industry and everyday life, from groundbreaking motion pictures to Instagram art sales.”

Growing up, I thought that if you were a Black woman, there were only so many spots for you at the editors’ table or on a website’s homepage.

The significant Black woman bloggers I knew of made influential careers in the gossip and lifestyle sectors, but whenever I looked at the team pages of my favorite music and fashion blogs, I would primarily see white men, Black men, Asian men, and white women. Even if a Black woman’s art was being featured, there were only so many things the writer knew to express or analyze. In general, culture writers have a very limited lens of analysis for work created by Black folk. Those limitations and that erasure is exasperated when we’re discussing Black women artists.

There are still many articles about art & media industry inequities like, “Where Did All the Female Rappers Go?” and “Artists Carving Out Space for Women of Color in Art World.”  Through BlacQurl Q&As, we’ve also been able to hear first-hand accounts of the ways in which inequity still impacts (and motivates) Black woman creators. Producer Numa Perrier, curator Renata Cherlise, and writer Morgan Jerkins all mentioned to BlacQurl some of their strategies for addressing industry inequity.

 I write for an art publication that not many people know about, and I get paid for every article. Sammie influenced her major media company to pay more attention to Black entertainers and content producers. Black woman photographers can make BANK off of running a studio, and you might never know who they are unless you live in their town. But, if you’re an up-and-coming artist and outlets aren’t paying attention to you because they don’t see you? They don’t know how to engage you? That’s unacceptable to me. And that’s why we started BlacQurl.

SS: To reference André 3000, Black women got something to say; we always have. Our narratives, creativity, and intellectuality are not only interesting, fun, difficult, and insightful, they will also help us map out better lives and futures.

BSM:What advice do you have for others trying to create a publication or digital platform?

JJ: First, write a proposal. Mission, vision, allathat. When I first thought up BlacQurl, I wrote a full proposal before sending it to Sammie. Proposals help me organize all my jumbled thoughts, clarify my purpose, specify my angle, identify gaps, and brainstorm an action plan. After creating the action plan, I started to see BlacQurl as a legitimate possibility, not just a cool idea. Additionally, I realized that if I was going to do this, I couldn’t do it alone and I couldn’t just rely on my own initial vision.

Second, don’t get too caught up in the hype of metrics, numbers, ads, followers, and likes, at least in your first year or two. There’s nothing more off-putting that a platform that focuses more on its brand than its content. But, more importantly, there’s something really special about being able to let your content speak for itself. We’ve reached out and worked with some amazing Black woman artists, those who are up-and-coming and pretty established. I’m not saying our content is the dopest out there because we certainly have growing to do. But, folks have appreciated our writers’ genuine engagement of Black woman artists and their work. So, they’re down to support us, too!

Finally, have fun! That probably sounds hella cheesy, but its true. We have too many chances in this world to do work we don’t want to do. If you’re going to create something, make sure it is something that will feed and excite you, even if you were the only one looking at it. I’m always reminded that BlacQurl is that outlet for me when I get to interview an artist I greatly admire, hear about new tracks from our music writer, and receive an in-depth recap of Black Girls Rock from our Screen/Stage writer, straight to my inbox. It’s so fulfilling.

SS: The one thing that we didn’t do initially (and are now in the process of) is asking for money, whether it be GoFundMe, Kickstarter or Patreon, PayPal, Venmo or Cash.Me. Ask for money!

BSM: What does Blackness and creativity mean to you?

JJ: Creativity is process. Doesn’t have to be distinctly unique, but it’s still genuinely yours.

Blackness…….lawd. Blackness is nothing and everything.

SS: I think about creativity as a means of survival – making a way out of no way, conjuring what we want and need into existence. It’s kind of a magical thing but also very practical because like, what else would we do?

BSM:What does it mean to be a free Black woman living on your own terms?

JJ: To be a free Black woman living on my own terms can be summed up in two very short, unrelated passages from authors Valerie Boyd and Toni Morrison:

“There was never quite enough for Zora Neale Hurston in the world she grew up in, so she made up whatever she needed.”

“And she had nothing to fall back on, not maleness not ladyhood. And out of the profound desolation of her reality, she may very well have invented herself.”

These lines are of the same spirit, and this to me, is the spirit of liberation.

SS: I guess day-to-day that means doing what I want…so like, not wearing pants, taking really good selfies, calling out the bullshit, and loving on people that I care about. In terms of doing the work to make the world a better place remembering that first, my labor deserves and really requires compensation and second, to operate from margin to center and to lift up and stand with those who are oppressed in ways that I’m not, particularly Black queer, trans and gender-non-conforming folks.

 

Charity Gates, Digital Director