"In the Kitchen With..."went editorial this week when Review arts editor Lauren Viera spoke with Jane editor Jane Pratt, OC '84. Long-distance from her big-shot office in New York, Pratt recalls the days of wine and roses at Oberlin in the '80s, with a sassy accent.
Lauren Viera: What was your reaction when you found out you were going to do an interview for the good old Oberlin newspaper?
Jane Pratt: What is it exactly?
LV: Well, you know the Oberlin Review, right?
JP: Of course.
LV: We just wanted to run a little feature because of your new magazine and see what you've been up to since the Sassy days and all that.
JP: Oh, I think it's so good! It's funny because I never wrote for the Oberlin Review myself because I was too intimidated. I remember the people that wrote for it and everything, and I kind of wanted to, but I just felt too intimidated. I was going to Oberlin and did this internship program where we came to New York and interned wherever we wanted, basically, and I interned at Rolling Stone.
LV: Oh really? How was that?
JP: It was great. It was really fun. I mean, I was xeroxing the whole time, but it was great. And then I interned at Fairchild, which is the same company that I'm at now. So I sort of got into the magazine thing that way, but at Oberlin, it was so weird. I don't know why I felt that way. I remember being sort of interested in WOBC, and being too intimidated to try to have a show there also. I don't know what my problem was! (laughs) It was harder for me with my peers; I was more intimidated by my peers than out in the real world.
LV: So you never had a radio show?
JP: No. I mean, I did do a lot of stuff there, but I didn't do those things.
LV: I think this is interesting, though, 'cause I'm doing those things now, but I always wonder about what actually happens after you graduate.
JP: Right; exactly. Basically, people out in the real world are just not as smart on the whole as Oberlin people. So in a way, it's like, if you can do it there, you'll be fine. I love Oberlin, though. I love it.
LV: When was the last time you came back to visit?
JP: I was supposed to go back for my - God, it's so frightening - I think it was my ten year reunion, and all my friends went, and I, at the last minute, had to be in Los Angeles so I couldn't go. But I went back for my five year and missed my ten, and I guess I'm actually coming up on 15 pretty soon, so frighteningly enough, I'm sure I'll get back for that. But all my best friends are still Oberlin people. It's really wild. And we all still live in really close proximity.
LV: So when did you graduate, then?
JP: I graduated in '84. And actually '87 was when I started Sassy.
LV: That was pretty quick, then. Was it pretty much from your experience - just interning and things like that - that you came up with the idea to start the magazine?
JP: Yeah, it was really weird, because I had done the internships and then when I got out of school, I worked at another internship at McCall's magazine, and I went from there to a magazine called Teenage. And now, sometimes people say to me, "That was so quick, that in three years or whatever it was getting out of school, you had your own magazine," but at the time, I didn't think it was quick at all. I thought I had paid my dues, working for free, and had that feeling, "I'm ready for this." But it was while I was working at these other magazines that I just thought more and more about how I would do it differently if I were in charge, that just built up with me after a couple of years working at other magazines. And also because I had always had this dream to do a magazine for young women that would take them a bit more seriously.
LV: So then what happened with it? There was a change of editorship at some point, is that right?
JP: Well, I was there for, like, eight years, and then I left to start Jane magazine, and about six months after I left, they sold the magazine to Teen, and folded it in, and then it became the anti-Sassy, so that's what happened to it. So sad; it was just tragic.
LV: So what did you think of it at that point?
JP: The first issue, when it was still called Sassy but it was being put out by the Teen people, I went to the newsstand and I refused to buy it. We actually figured out this trick where you could give the newsstand guy money, but not have the Teen people make any money. You'd buy the magazine, but then you would bring it back and put it back on the stack when you were done reading it, because that way, the magazine would get it as a return, as if it hadn't been bought. They wouldn't get the money. But anyway, the first issue that it was out at the newsstand and - it sounds really sappy - I actually started to cry at the newsstand because I opened it up, and I saw this page and it was (in a sarcastic voice) "The calorie counts of your favorite fast foods," and I just thought, "Oh my God," it was so exactly what Sassy is against, and there it was.
LV: So with Jane, you just re-vamped that whole thing and aimed it at a little bit older audience?
JP: Yeah. I had been getting all these letters from Sassy readers saying, "I'm still reading Sassy and I'm 24; could you do something for me, it's a little embarrassing," and I started thinking about where would Sassy readers go next? And I felt like the teen magazines had gotten a little bit more with it, but I felt like I looked around at Mademoiselle and Cosmo, and just thought, there really is nothing out there that is in touch with what I think women want now. I think those magazines are still based on a really retro idea of what women want. So that was the idea.
LV: So how do you feel like, as an Obie, you've adjusted to the whole business-style of things - appealing to everybody as opposed to just we liberal, crunchy people here?
JP: Well, it's funny because in some ways, I feel like I've brought a lot of the Oberlin style with me. I think a lot of the way the magazine's run is very in-keeping with Oberlin's philosophies. I spent a couple years trying to get Jane funded, and when I wasn't getting the funding, I had a couple friends say to me, "You should just put out a zine, and that way you wouldn't have to worry about advertising; you could say whatever you wanted." But it's never been interesting to me, the idea of preaching to the converted. Zines are great, and I read a lot of them, I take a lot from them, but I'd really always wanted to do something that would appeal to women everywhere who are maybe not so in touch, but that they could learn from it. So it's kind of taking that liberal bias and making it match; making it mass, making it consumer-friendly.
LV: Are there any traditions or stories that you remember about the college?
JP: Yeah, tons! Let's see.... Let me think. The weird thing is I wasn't sure whether I was going to like it or not. And I had a plan with a friend of mine who lived in Boston - she had a place for me in her apartment - that if I didn't like Oberlin after one month, I could move to Boston and just live there with her. And I really went to Oberlin just thinking I wasn't going to stay, from day one. I loved it, but I had this impression of it that I was going to be really, really isolated.
LV: The middle of Ohio....
JP: Yeah, the middle of the cornfields.... But the truth is, you could see it as isolated in some ways, but I don't know - you're the one who's there living it right now, so you know better than I do. But we just created all these worlds there. You know, like the Snack Bar! You gotta whole world going on in the Snack Bar, and whatever. I lived in Tank my second year and I loved that. Me and my roommate Deena, our room looked like a brothel. I don't know what we were thinking! We had, like, peacock feathers on the ceiling, tapestries on every surface. We were sort of.... (long pause) We were partiers. I'm trying to think what else.... You know it's funny, when I remember Oberlin, I just don't remember the classes at all. I just remember all the social interaction. And you know, it's such a thrill because - a bunch of us had organized our classes so we could watch All My Children everyday in Talcott, and then I got to go on All My Children last week as a cameo, and it was so exciting! It was like all the people - Tad and Brooke and Liza - all the people that we had sat there watching that year. It was really funny.
LV: So all this has paid off now, because, look where you are now: cameos on All My Children...
JP: It's true! I think that so much of what you learn at Oberlin really isn't about the classes. There's so much I learned there about priorities, about looking at the big picture. I mean, money doesn't motivate me, fame...none of that stuff is interesting to me. What's interesting is really feeling like I have a message and wanting to get that out, and I feel like that came very much from Oberlin.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 5, October 3, 1997
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