It’s not often that I write about a project that isn’t finished or available in stores yet, but every now and then something special comes along that needs to be shared before it’s even out the door and running. And HANNAH Magazine is one of those special things.
Historically and (sadly) still currently, most lifestyle publications (and media in general) underrepresent women of color. Rarely are their stories shared in their own voices and too often we see women of color represented in the form of style-based trends, divorced from their original cultural significance. So when I heard that writer Qimmah Saafir was starting a print magazine called HANNAH, devoted to celebrating the voices of black women, I was excited and intrigued. I immediately checked out their Kickstarter page and was blown away by the women in their introduction video speaking firsthand about the importance of having their voices, faces, stories and concerns represented in a meaningful way in the media. HANNAH will cover everything from fashion and beauty stories to sociopolitical and tech news and personal stories. The plan is to publish twice a year and focus on creating a magazine that is as aesthetically strong and confident as the content inside.
Starting a print magazine is always hard, but when I heard about a mission and goal as important as this, it was impossible to not get excited and want to help in any way. So in addition to donating to HANNAH, I wanted to sit down and talk with Qimmah about her inspiration, motivation and longterm goals for the magazine. Hearing about her past in the editorial world and the heartbreaking but pivotal life moment that led her to leave her job and start HANNAH makes me want to celebrate this project even more. The world needs more strong, female voices in print and I’m so excited to have these voices join the magazine world…hopefully soon. Click here to check out and support HANNAH‘s Kickstarter page, and read on to hear Qimmah’s story and what motivated her to leave her full-time job and devote herself to starting a print magazine. xo, grace
*Please note all images of HANNAH shown above and below are mock-ups to show what the style and tone of the magazine will be.
What inspired you to start HANNAH and how long did it take to get from your initial idea to this Kickstarter launch?
I’ve had the desire to do something since I was a teenager. However, the picture began to get clearer after I left my job at the rap publication XXL. That was a pivotal time for me. For one, I realized that not all “urban” mags or mags geared toward people of color were necessarily concerned about uplifting women of color. Secondly, I acknowledged the fact that working full-time on someone else’s dream was not ideal for me. I became a freelancer after leaving that job. And lastly, but most importantly, I was losing my father. We found out he had bladder cancer. In that moment, I didn’t care about anything else but getting to Georgia and being by his side. During his last months, we had lots of talks. All we did was sit and talk. In one of our discussions he urged me to do any and everything I ever dreamed of doing in this lifetime. The weight of that advice coming from the one man I never fathomed leaving me… It stayed on me and eventually propelled me.
What made you decide to start a print magazine versus a blog, podcast, etc.?
Well, I’m a print girl. I have a collection of more than 400 issues! So I lean toward print. Online is great but I love the way a new magazine feels in my hands. I enjoy flipping through and dog-earing pages. It’s a thing for me. Past that, there are millions of blogs and podcasts. And so many of them are amazing, but so many of them get lost in the oversaturation of those mediums. We will have a digital space to remain connected with everyone between the biannual releases, but I needed HANNAH to be a collectible. Something beautiful that people can hold and have in their homes.
I love that your Kickstarter video led with the importance of black women telling their own stories. Can you talk about why it is so important for women of color to have a place of their own (as well as a place at other publications) to tell their stories, rather than having someone else tell it for them?
Your voice is your power. Everyone in this country fights to be heard, no? To have a say? Ever sat at a dining room table and had other people discuss you without asking you what you think or feel? Have you ever not been able to correct someone who holds fast to a false assumption about you? Have you ever had to watch a portrayal of “you” on a big screen with a huge crowd watching and not be able to say, “Hey, guys, you got it all wrong?”
As humans, why shouldn’t we each have a voice? Why shouldn’t we all get to write our own stories and have space to do so? Women of color have been in the backdrop of everyone else’s scenes for years and years. Historically and cinematically. You might find three non-celeb women of color in an issue of a mainstream magazine. And sometimes it’s even like, “Hey, Grace, I want to feature you in our magazine. No, no, I don’t need any quotes from you. I don’t care about your mind or your story or your talent. I just want your hair. We’re going to focus on your hairstyle as a trend. But we’re going to call it something other than what you call it. Oh, and by the way, you won’t actually be in the piece. We have a white model for that. Thanks.” *laughs*
No one questions a magazine that is full of white women. Why would they? That has been the norm. Why is it questioned or a big deal when another group wants the same? It’s similar with TV/Film. Constance Wu, the actress who plays the mother on Fresh Off The Boat recently made a great point in an interview with GQ. She said, “I was talking to a friend the other day about HBO’s Togetherness. I was like, ‘It’s a show about white people.’ And he said ‘Oh, come on, they’re just people.’ But if somebody says my show is about Asian American people, nobody bats an eye. If you think about what that says about the normative context of TV, white people are allowed to exist as just people.” And that is what HANNAH is. A place for black women to exist as just people.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given so far about running a magazine?
There are so many things to be done when starting something new. Our team is very small. I never put HANNAH down. I was speaking with the extraordinary Mara Brock Akil recently and she gave me some advice around multi-tasking that stuck with me. She said, “There is always opportunity for working while working.” She has no idea how she changed my world with that statement! It’s my new mantra. I will apply it everywhere. Ha!
What’s been the most difficult part of starting HANNAH so far?
There’s a reason publications employ 50-100 people. There are areas that need to be working well simultaneously. It’s hard to make sure everything is being handled when and as it needs to be, especially with little to no budget. Getting our Kickstarter campaign funded means everything to us. It will give us something to work with.
Are there any magazines and publications you look up to as great examples of what you’re hoping to achieve with HANNAH?
I used to looove Jane. It was smart and funny and kept me engaged. Currently, I’m fascinated with a slew of indie mags. Monocle does so much with the reader in mind. That’s so important. I think they are phenomenal. I haven’t been inspired by just one publication or book. I pull from every reading experience that I have and collect what I think would be best for HANNAH’s audience.
What are your main goals with HANNAH in these early days?
Spreading the word and pooling resources.
How would you like to see HANNAH grow in the next few years?
I’d like HANNAH to get into a good groove. Biannual prints, our digital space, but also, events, showcases, philanthropy. I want it to flourish into something beyond its pages.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a publication of their own?
It’s difficult for me to point to specific books because the industry is in flux right now. I’m sure there are hundreds of 101s, but some rules no longer apply. Definitely educate yourself on the industry and business. But beyond that I think the starting point is studying/knowing your audience. In HANNAH’s case, I am my audience so I let intuition lead my decisions around creating something I would want to see and read. If you aren’t your audience, study your favorite publication and make note of what you would do differently. Know the rules to break them. Don’t be afraid to write your own book on how to start a publication.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
I make it a point to thank God when I open my eyes. It puts things into perspective for me. No matter what I’m stressed about (because I sometimes wake up stressed) or what I am anxious about, when I do that I remember what’s important. I remember to be grateful and to then take a moment to breathe and be still. That’s me at my best on an ideal morning. Sometimes I’m on Instagram before my second eye opens. LOL.
What’s the hardest part of starting a magazine that isn’t obvious from the outside?
Producing the actual magazine. When you see the finished product it’s hard to fathom everything that goes into it. Getting writers and editors and copy editing and fact-checking and days and days of correspondence with reps and photo shoot logistics and wardrobe pulling and styling and image editing and graphic design and layout rounds. That’s the tip of it and that’s just an issue. That doesn’t include finding the right printer and printing costs and shipping issues and marketing and promotion and now the myriad social media outlets. The list goes on and on.