Interview by Kaylee Warren
Embodied sat down and spoke with Micah Pegues (Gallatin 2020), one of the founders of Polychrome Mag., a magazine created by creatives of color to shine a light on the work creatives of color. The twenty year old Texan native is not only soaring high after a sold out release of Polychrome’s first issue but is also being featured in publications such as ARTSY and Forbes for her refreshing work with Polychrome. Micah is currently working on Issue 2 of Polychrome before she spends the next semester abroad at NYU Sydney. We met up with Micah in the West Village at Grounded, her favorite coffee shop, to discuss the story behind Polychrome, the current state of print, and the important advice she learned from Rookie creator Tavi Gevinson.
I was thinking about this interview yesterday and how it was going to be about Polychrome and realized that we actually met because of Polychrome - at Quimby’s Bookstore in brooklyn for The Mag Mob’s independent publishing event in January.
Yeah! That’s really crazy.
Could you tell me the story of Polychrome and how it came to be?
During the end of my first semester at NYU, I went back home [to Texas] and I was in Barnes and Noble looking for magazines. I always look for ones with artists and whenever I see a cover with a black [artist] on it, I pick it up. I didn’t really see anything that interested me, so I thought about how there are niche magazines for different ethnicities, but there isn’t one for people of color altogether. That’s what I was thinking about. My friend Gabriella had just finished her zine called Avant Girl which is for movers and shakers. I saw her going through the process of curating and printing it and eventually having it in The Strand, so I knew that it was possible to do something like that. My friend Celeste was working at Girl Gaze at the time, and my other friend Kennedy was working for this magazine called Hannah. So I texted all of them separately, told them about my experience at the bookstore and that I was thinking about making a magazine that would cater towards what I didn’t see. I pulled out my notebook and started brainstorming. I was trying to find a name that had to do with colorful, so like any good college student, I went on the thesaurus *laughs* and found the word polychrome and was like “this sounds really cool.”
That night actually, I bought the domain and registered the handles on social media. I started that and made a list of people who I thought would be cool to have in it. I just started texting them. Coming into NYU I knew three people from a previous summer camp that we had done together, but I was really lacking a POC community, so I wanted to find more people to connect with.
Did you always know that you wanted to make a magazine?
I’ve always been interested in the arts. When I first came to NYU, I was in film but that didn’t feel right. I was mostly interested in telling people’s stories. With Polychrome, it’s not entirely me creating this all on my own, it’s more of a curatorial thing. That way I still get to interact with people and be creative at the same time. That’s sort of what drew me to it initially. In film, I was really interested in documentary work, and I started to feel like magazines are kind of in the same vein. My dad always says this thing where it’s like don’t complain about something, if you’re not going to do anything about it. That’s was sort of spurred me.
Polychrome started in print, right? There was never a digital platform for it?
No, there was never going to be a digital interface for it initially. I wanted to build Polychrome to be a print magazine because I really care about the physicality of it. Also, I think that the digital form just bastardizes magazines. You take away half of the senses. You can’t feel it, you can’t smell it. It’s gone, basically. It’s just pixels on the screen. Not that I don’t love the Internet because I really do and credit most of my creativity to it, but I don’t think that magazines are destined for the Internet.
Totally. Issue 11 is based around the often circulated idea that print is dead.
It’s a zombie.
Exactly! In so many areas, you see it coming back in the form of vinyl, zines, film photography, etc. Print is absolutely making a comeback. There’s something so special about it.
At the beginning, I was saying that Polychrome was here to compete against these other medias, but it’s kind of like you don’t even have to acknowledge them. They’re not acknowledging you, so just [stay] in your own lane.
That’s such a good mentality to have. That blends into another question I had which is what advice would you have for other creatives of colors as well as for someone who is interested in print but might be a little intimidated, might not know how to grapple with it?
In a lot of my classes, we’ve been talking about Marxist theory *laughs.* [In these classes, we are] talking about commodifying your difference. At first, with Polychrome that was what I was thinking about. All these things that [people tell] you make you weird, you can make your selling point. So with these classes, at first I felt guilty to make a magazine. But, I don’t think of it that way [anymore] because I don’t really think it’s commodifying; it’s using it to your advantage because in any other field, it’s a disadvantage. If you’re a creative, especially a POC creative, anything that makes you different is what makes your work unique. So for anyone who wants to get into the print world, find something that doesn’t already exist, but if it does exist, improve upon it. Figure out everything that you like about it or everything you don’t like about it, and make your magazine have everything [to make it] that much better.
There’s this book called Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. [It’s] this cartoonish book that talks about how everything has already been invented and how you just have to make it your own thing. You don’t have to try to make something that’s never been done before.
So you’re editor in chief, you’re creative director, you’re definitely something else probably.
How do you do that? How do you be all of these roles and be a student and a person? What is that like?
Last year, that was a really big struggle for me - trying to manage everything concurrently. I was doing an internship at this magazine in Brooklyn, then I was also finishing up the magazine. At first, it was a major struggle. It’s something that bothers me when people are like “wow you’re doing all of this stuff, that’s so good!” and I’m like “uhh, not really I’m really struggling here.” They say “oh, you wouldn’t be able to tell!” and I’m like “I am!” *laughs* It frustrates me that people think it’s really easy. Tavi Gevinson always says it’s really important to show the process and not just show the end product. It makes people think that it’s not a hard thing to create something, so that’s really important to me. That’s why I always try to show drafts of things so that people know it’s a really long process, it takes time, and is hard. *laughs*
Now, I’ve learned to better manage things. This year in particular, I’ve made sure that I have really clear boundaries. I definitely don’t post [on Polychrome’s social media] on the weekends unless I want to. I don’t think people realize [the magazine] is ran by students all over the U.S., so it’s really hard for us to communicate, too. Sometimes people really expect a quick response and that this is my only job. But, I would say the best thing to do is to get organized, set up a system of spreadsheets and documents so that everything is separate, and really build out your calendar. For me, knowing that I need to have time alone is really important for me. At first, I used to think that was really problematic and weird and was like I should just be going, going, going all the time. But now, I’m very up front with people that I need to take time by myself.
Showing process is likely really comforting for someone who wants to create something of their own but might be thinking “ugh, I can’t do this.”
It [was] comforting for me hearing it from [Tavi]. That really resonated with me, so that’s something that I also wanted to try to show in Polychrome. That’s why we don’t just have industry professionals; we also have students so that you can see the process that people are taking to get to where they want to be.
What has been your favorite moment thus far working on Polychrome?
I think the best moment was when we reached our Kickstarter goal. I was kind of terrified that I wouldn’t know enough people to contribute to make it happen, but then all of a sudden all of these strangers started contributing. We hit our goal within twenty four hours and then it doubled, so that was really crazy. I remember that day - it was in January and I was at home - and I didn’t go out, I was in my pajamas with my dog just watching the numbers.
The next day, we were featured on the [Kickstarter] homepage and that was just wild to me. I had to go in for a doctor’s appointment, and we had just been mentioned on the homepage so when [my doctor] put the [stethoscope] on my heart, my heart was beating super fast. I was like “I promise nothing’s wrong, I’m just really excited!” *laughs*
“The Gap” by Ira Glass
Grounded Organic Coffee and Tea House, located in the West Village
Episode 1 of the Rookie Mag podcast featuring Tavi Gevinson, Lorde and Hilton Als
The 1995 French black and white film La Haine
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the 2018 documentary film examining the legacy of Mister Rogers
Check out Polychrome Mag. at www.polychromemag.com and keep an eye out for Issue 2, coming soon.