Welcome to our series BRN GRL WIN. Every Friday, we introduce you to movers and shakers who are KILLING the game. These are women of color we admire and are inspired by, and we want you to be too! (If you know someone who would be great for BRN GRL WIN, let us know!)
Senior Editor at "Bitch" Magazine
BRN GRL SPK's creator and founder Ugonna first met Evette Dionne five years ago when they were both student journalists with high hopes of breaking into the media industry. Fast forward to today, Evette has not only broken into it but has made it her work's purpose to break down walls for others like her and create spaces where they can exist.
The extremely talented writer has interviewed R&B Artist Sevyn Streeter about her battle with depression, criticized our misdirected conversations about R. Kelly, profiled rapper Young MA about her music and sexuality, and written a revealing personal essay about living with HPV.
She's been published in The New York Times, Teen Vogue, The Guardian, and Harper's Bazaar, to name a few.
Through it all, she's never lost sight of the passion that drives her work: "creating a pipeline of opportunities for women of color and Black women."
All this to say, the choice for this week's BRN GRL WIN was an easy one. Scroll down to read our conversation with Evette. We hope it inspires you as much as it did us!
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I’m a Black Feminist writer, critic, and editor who focuses on how power, privilege, and oppression impacts representation in pop culture.
Primarily, I’m a senior editor at Bitch, a non-profit organization and magazine that’s been critiquing pop culture for over 20 years. Outside of that, I’ve also written extensively about race, gender, size, and class in pop culture and politics for a number of different publications. I’d say my work is split between writing, assigning and editing stories, and figuring out how to get that work in front of as many eyes as possible.
I’d describe myself as just a Black girl from Queens, New York who’s living my wildest dream.
What inspired you to pursue this?
Reading the work, biographies, and autobiographies of other Black women journalists and writers like Joan Morgan, Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B. Wells, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange, Pearl Cleage, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Audre Lorde greatly inspired me to become a Black Feminist writer and editor.
I really began immersing in work that centers Black women my senior year of college when I enrolled in a class about Alice Walker ... Learning about Walker’s work, famous writing saloons, and devotion to reviving Hurston’s work really beckoned me. That’s when I fully realized the impact of Black women’s legacy in literature.
When I got to grad school and started immersing in Black women’s theory and work, I really understood that this work and calling is bigger than me, and I started moving more toward critiquing culture and politics, writing essays, and really focusing on how to center Black women in media narratives.
Who or what inspires you to keep growing and improving?
I am always inspired by the work of other writers, particularly writers of color and Black writers. When I read, say, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s profile of Missy Elliott in Elle or Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, I feel inspired to keep pushing myself as a writer. I know I’m only 50 percent of the writer I can be, which gives me hope that I still can improve and grow in my work.
As for growing and improving mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I talk to God—a lot. I talk to God about where I’m at and where I’d like to go. I also meditate to hear the response.
I also believe firmly in therapy. Counseling has been life-affirming for me, and has really given me the tools I need to reflect on mistakes I’ve made and learn from them.
What do you think the importance of what you do is in today's political and social climate?
It’s always important to speak truth to people and truth to power. I think that’s especially important now as state legislatures and the federal government work to enact laws that oppress people of color, trans people, poor people, and other people from marginalized groups.
Calling a thing a thing is really what I seek to do with my work. White supremacy is exactly that. It shows up overtly through white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and covertly through policies, like voter ID measures that have been passed in several state legislatures to suppress voters of color.
The problem is so many journalists are unwilling to call out what’s blatantly there because they’re servicing this idea of objectivity, which I don’t believe in.
Outside of pinpointing oppression, I’m also really invested in using Black feminism to envision a new world. How can I organize spaces for Black women? How I can use my writing and editing skills to help progressive candidates of color run for office? Those are the things I’m thinking about all the time.
What kind of response do you often get from people regarding your work?
There’s usually a 50/50 response split. 50% of people who read my work want to converse about it either because they love it or they disagree with it and want to state their case. The other 50% decided from the moment they realized I’m a plus-size Black woman that my work is meaningless.
The latter 50% are the people I worry about because there’s a real danger there. People have tried to hack my social media accounts and email accounts. They’ve made demeaning YouTube videos about me. They call me out of my name on social media, tell me I should kill myself, and I deserve to be raped.
I’ve had to train myself to focus on the 50% of folks who want to engage with me ... I know that when something resonates, it’s really about people being happy that they’re able to see themselves. I love that part of it.
What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
I’ve learned that better is always coming, a phrase I first heard from @feministgriote and have held fiercely on to as a mantra for my life. I struggle with anxiety and depression, so the idea that better is coming—emotionally and mentally—has become a coping mechanism for me. It helps me remain optimistic and focused on preparing myself to receive whatever comes next in my life, both positive and negative.
I’ve also learned that sometimes rejection is good. I used to lament opportunities that I didn’t get, but in hindsight, I realize that rejection kept me from veering off course. While that opportunity may be great someone else, it wasn’t meant for me, and I’ve learned to be okay with that.
What are some of the things you’re most passionate about in life?
I’m fiercely passionate about my family. My parents, brother, grandmother, grandfather, nieces, nephew, aunts, uncles, and cousins keep me grounded, balanced, and focused. I also know that I can be my most authentic self when I’m with them. I’m also passionate about having healthy relationships with my partner, George, and with my close friends.
I can’t convey enough how important interpersonal connection is for me. Having people in my life who care and love me—not what I do—has been so crucial to my journey. I always know I have people who will pour into me when I need it most and who I can also pour into.
I’m also passionate about increasing representation in media. I firmly believe that when we can see ourselves, we understand that we’re unstoppable. Whether it’s working on television scripts, a new found passion, or working with emerging writers to help them find their voices, creating a pipeline of opportunities for women of color and Black women is one of my greatest passions.
I’m also really invested in good books. When I stumble on a great book, it feels like I’ve escaped into a new world, which is always a welcomed relief.
How do you hope to grow? / Where do you see yourself in the future?
Growth is so important to me. Hindsight fuels growth, in my opinion, so I hope to develop sharper and clearer hindsight. I also want to gain wisdom and knowledge that I can pass on to my nieces, nephew, and future children, just as my elders have done for me.
I want to continue practicing balance in my life, so it becomes a default state of being. Right now, I’m actively working to achieve balance. I want to reach a point where balance is the natural state of life, and I recognize when I’m not centered and focused.
In the foreseeable future, I see myself really building a career for myself at Bitch. I really love what I do and the people I work with, and I want to continue etching space for women of color and Black women writers there.
I also plan to write a book and sell it to a publisher. I’d love to work on a television pilot of some sort, become a contributing editor at another magazine I admire, and continue mentoring emerging writers of color who need that guidance.
Outside of my career, I’d love to purchase a home. I want to marry my partner. I’d like to have a child or two. I want that solid foundation, no matter what happens in my career.
What is something you think other BRN GRLs need to know?
There are going to many obstacles on your path to greatness. You have to be prepared for that. It’s not going to be an easy journey for us, but that’s what makes the victories so much sweeter. You have to know that better is always coming in your life, and anything you want, write down, and work toward will come to fruition in some way.
And finally, what does BRN GRL WIN mean to you?
Everything. Black women, Latinx folks, Native women, and other women of color are so resilient and resourceful because we’ve been forced to be. For that reason, I love to see us win and flourish. We deserve that. We’ve earned it.