Culture & Society / Ithaca & Cornell

Origin Stories: An Interview with Kitsch Founders Katie Jentleson and Samantha Henig

Aurora and Jagravi: Hi!

Katie: Hi!

Sam: Katie? Hi!

Katie: Hi! We never see each other anymore, this is nice!

Sam: How’s it going?

Aurora: Pretty good! We’re in layout week now, so things are definitely heating up.

Katie: Oh nice, where do you guys do that now?

Jagravi: In the basement of Willard Straight.

Sam: Damn, they didn’t burn that place down once we left?

Aurora: Not yet…

Jagravi: So why did you guys start kitsch?

Sam: So we got to Cornell and we were looking at all of the publications. We knew we wanted to write good feature journalism, and there wasn’t really a place to do that. There was really only the Sun or lit mags, and neither were what we wanted.

eds-young

Katie and Sam in their Kitsch/college years.

 

Katie: Then I had knee surgery over winter break and you visited me.

Sam: Oh yeah, I forgot about that!

Katie: Yeah, and we decided to start our own publication then. We also both come from a really strong journalism background. Our high school, Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, Maryland, has a really excellent and nationally ranked journalism program run by this really old-school reporter guy who was super strict but a really amazing teacher. He really trusted young people to take on responsibilities. So we had just come out of this training in high school where we saw what we could do as young writers, and we wanted to keep doing it. We didn’t really have any goals beyond creating that outlet. But then kitsch became this locus of counter-culture where you would just hole up in Willard Straight all night to put together something awesome. We got all of our friends involved and it just became something more. It was a community, a culture.

Aurora: That’s awesome. How many people did you have working on it?

Sam: We had about 12 to 25 people usually, I’d say. Some were really loyal and hardworking, you know, and others were just sort of in and out.

Katie: By the time we left, it was a more clear system with a full editorial board, more of a hierarchy. When we started, it was just kind of us in charge and then everyone else and we all did everything.

Sam: We used to have really irreverent covers.

Katie: Yeah, our first one we outed Denice Cassaro. She was this lady who—

Aurora: Oh yeah, we know Denice well. At least, her emails.

Jagravi: Yup, she’s still here.

Katie: No way, she’s been there for thirteen years or more! That’s wild.

Sam: But anyway! By the end of our time there, we had a staff with illustrators, photographers, and it started to look like a full publication with real organization and staff we could count on to create all types of content.

Katie: We did a lot of the art ourselves at first.

Sam: Oh man, in the beginning we had a contributor page with photos, but we didn’t put our own photos on the letter-from-the-editors page because we were being modest. But then in the center of the contributor page was a photo of our friend Jonah and he was posing in this really authoritarian manner, with his arms crossed—it looked like it was his thing. After the magazine was printed people kept coming up to him like, “Oh man! You founded that magazine!” So after that, we put our pictures, too.

Katie: For a second I thought you were going to talk about our hate mail story. But that’s a boring one I guess.

Jagravi: What?! No, what’s the hate mail story??

Katie: So we got a hate letter from this one girl. She wasn’t a part of kitsch but probably should have been, which is I think why she hated us. But she called us Ugg-wearing, Lost in Translation-watching posers. She was a hipster. I guess we were too, but she was more authentic. And she called us posers! Which is such an awesome insult, because you can’t deny it. She was friends—or was?—an architecture student. And they were definitely way “cooler” than us. And they actually started their own rival magazine called Awkward.

Sam: It was launched our senior year but it definitely only lasted a couple issues. It died before we graduated. But anyway, when we were trying to come up with a tagline for kitsch, we considered using “ugg-wearing, Lost in Translationwatching, vinyl-listening posers.”

Katie: It was a funny little feud. But I think most people didn’t really care about us.

Sam: No, I think we were pretty well-received.

Katie: Yeah that’s true. We got funding from different humanities departments and got a good reaction from a lot of faculty and students. Also I went into journalism after college and a lot of jobs I applied to found kitsch really impressive.

Jagravi: It’s cool to see people really care and get invested.

Katie: Yeah we cared a lot about the magazine. But we tried to make meetings fun and have fun launch parties and stuff, which is something I still care about, even in more corporate settings.

Aurora: Where did the gnome come from?

Sam: Oh haha it’s so “13!” It was a Bat Mitzvah present! The weirdest Bat Mitzvah present ever, from Peter Preziosi. At first I was like, “…okay,” but then it really grew on me, and I brought it to college and we would bring him when we tabled for kitsch and stuff, and he just became our mascot. I even thought about bringing him to work and having him sit in my cubicle, but I haven’t made the move yet. It might be because I really like having him at home.

Jagravi: What do you guys do now, now that you’re grown-ups?

Katie: I’m a curator for High Museum in Atlanta for Folk and Self-Taught Art.

Sam: I work at The New York Times. I’ve been here for five years running an audio group that does podcasts and other audio initiatives.

eds-w-babies

Kitsch founders, Katie and Sam with their babies circa 2016.

Aurora: Wow, that’s great.

Katie: It’s funny, I feel like I don’t remember anything from college except for kitsch. When I tell people about my college years I’m like, “basically the whole time I was working on a magazine.” That was like the college experience for me.

Sam: Yeah we’re both so thrilled that it’s still going and still vibrant.

Aurora and Jagravi: *blushing* Well thank you so much! And thanks for chatting with us. Happy 13th birthday to your baby who is now our baby.

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