- Photo: Joshua Yospyn
Rachael Prokop appears to be the only person not drinking alcohol during happy hour at Café Asia. “I’ll have a hot tea,” she says, giving the server a huge smile.
“I don’t drink beer,” she tells me, confessing that while she loves D.C., its nightly happy hours threw her for a loop when she moved from Ohio seven months ago. “That’s unthinkable in Ohio!”
Prokop, 23, of Crystal City, doesn't have a lot in common with many of young college-educated women who flock to D.C. She has no political aspirations, spends zero time at the gym, cares little about clothes, doesn’t date, and has no apparent desire to climb any ladders, social or otherwise. While seeking permanent employment, she freelances for the Hemophilia Federation of America and works on her two novels, one of which is about a werewolf who decides to attend human college and discovers she’s a lesbian. She once dressed in a hazard suit and pretended to clean a seal during a demonstration to mark the one-year anniversary of the Gulf oil spill. She has a hard time naming a bar she likes.
If Prokop feels out of place among the professional set posturing at Café Asia, she certainly doesn’t betray it. Her unfussy ponytail and makeup-free face stand in comic opposition to our cartoonishly sexy waitress, who wears turquoise eyeliner and a tiny black one-shouldered thing. Prokop gives her another huge grin when she sets her tea down.
Prokop describes herself as having “a tendency to take a very positive outlook,” but if she’s particularly cheerful today, it’s because she just published her first piece on Rookie, the online magazine debut from teen guru and fashion-world darling Tavi Gevinson. Gevinson, 15, launched Rookie last month to great fanfare and a New York Times article, and reportedly received more than 3,000 applications after putting out a call for contributors.
Prokop didn’t know who Tavi was and only heard about Rookie through a friend’s blog, but she went ahead and submitted a piece advising teens on how to tell their parents that they’ve become vegetarians. The story, which she penned for the teen page of the Warren, Ohio, Tribune Chronicle as a high school student, got her one of the coveted spots on the Rookie masthead.
Most of Rookie’s contributors exhibit stylish, quirky photos and descriptions of themselves on the magazine’s staff page, listing qualifications like living in Transylvania, enjoying Super Mario, and possessing a soul made of glitter in their bios. Prokop’s says that she likes visiting museums.
She was initially a bit intimidated by the other contributors. “They just seemed to know so much about fashion and pop culture,” says Prokop, who describes her style as evolving from peasant shirts and long skirts. “I felt old and uneducated.”
But whatever sartorial walls existed between Prokop and her ultra-hip teen colleagues dissolved as the group commenced discussion on the magazine’s private Facebook page. Though Tavi made a name for herself through the fashion blog she started as a precocious 13-year-old, Rookie deemphasizes fashion in favor of the larger, quirkier young female experience, which Prokop gets.
“I was really intrigued by the idea of a feminist magazine,” she says. “It’s for real girls. It’s not for the advertisers.” (Indeed, Rookie ran a piece advising masturbation as a way to relieve boredom.) Rookie seeks that editorial sweet spot held by legendary teen mag Sassy and attempted by subsequent publication Jane— irreverent content for thinking ladies who also want to occasionally look at some shoes.
Rookie offers a good mix of Internet one-offs that might be at home on The Hairpin (“Your Teen Witch BFF”) and high-minded essays (“First Encounters With the Male Gaze”). For the Rachael Prokops of the world—girls who did both 4H and drama club in high school and write sexy vampire novels on the side—it’s a place to publish pieces too edgy for Seventeen and too tame for Cosmo. Though Prokop’s first piece for Rookie, an essay on being 23 and never having been kissed or in a relationship, seems like prudish fare, it’s actually intended to be a bit of feministing that would be radical in teen magazines that constantly push dating. The article got a flood of positive, empathetic comments.
“Pop culture is always about finding a boyfriend,” says Prokop. Her piece celebrates being single and being a virgin, topics that tend to be given one-dimensional treatment in the media.
Rookie’s smart treatment of culture, romance, and fashion, plus its nostalgic references to '90s fare like My So-Called Life and Daria, has attracted plenty of grown women to the site. (So many readers kept announcing in the comments that they were 26, 28, and so on that the staff was briefly concerned that the site wasn’t actually reaching any teenagers.)
Prokop says she plans to stick with Rookie for the foreseeable future. She doesn't intend to carve out a career in journalism but is thrilled to have found a place where her voice fits.
"It's probably one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me," she says.