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Ambitious blog editor reflects on Davis upbringing

By From page A1 | October 27, 2013

anna holmesW

Anna Holmes, who grew up in Davis, will return to her hometown for a reading Wednesday evening of "The Book of Jezebel," which she compiled and edited. NPR.com/Courtesy photo

Meet the editor

Who: Anna Holmes, editor of “The Book of Jezebel”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., downtown Davis

Anna Holmes may have bylines in The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek, but the first time her name was pressed with ink onto newsprint was in the Davis High School HUB.

And that’s a significant point of local pride, considering all she has done following her 1991 graduation from DHS. She’s most known for starting the women’s blog Jezebel, given its ever-soaring popularity.

Holmes, who was born in Sacramento, spent the entirety of her childhood in Davis. She followed a natural progression of local schools: from North Davis Elementary, to Holmes Junior High and then Davis High.

Both of her parents were advocates for civil rights, and her mother was active in the feminist movement. She cites an upbringing in a progressive household as having a strong effect on her later pursuits in life.

There were also some local mentors who inspired her along the way, such as Beverly Ballard, Holmes’ AP English teacher when she attended DHS. Of Ballard, Holmes said, “Her passion for writing was infectious.”

Davis dance instructor Pamela Trokanski was another role model who was pivotal in Holmes’ development, as she explained: “It was at a time in a lot of adolescent girls’ lives when we’re prone to self-doubt about who we are and the way that we look, and she taught us to love how strong we were instead of how skinny we were.”

Taking pride in one’s own body, whether or not it was directly related to those early teachings, became an essential part of the Jezebel manifesto. It operates under the tagline, “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.”

Holmes founded the blog in 2007, after the years of frustration she experienced writing for less forward-thinking women’s magazines. Jezebel was attracting 10 million monthly views by end of the year it launched.

“The intention was to create a women’s media property that did not condescend to or insult young American women,” Holmes said. “I basically wanted to make a website that I’d want to read.

“We hoped to use pop culture as entry point to talking about gender politics and feminism. … I think we did that successfully, but I didn’t know whether or not that would resonate with people until it did.”

As for whether Jezebel’s prominence has made an impact on the handling of women’s contemporary issues in other media outlets, that’s something Holmes finds hard to quantify, but remains optimistic about.

She announced her resignation from her role as editor-in-chief of Jezebel in 2010, citing a need to branch out. She was since freelanced in prestigious publications, and has a feature spot on The New York Times Book Review.

Soon after Holmes departed from her original enterprise, she also began discussing with Jezebel’s parent company (Gawker Media) how the women’s blog could be expanded to other forms of media.

“We wanted for it some type of permanence,” Holmes explained. “The Internet is very ephemeral. When you’re putting up 70 posts per day, they all go by like a flash.”

The solution that came out of those conversations was “The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things,” which features contributions from the website’s writers that Holmes edited and condensed into paperback.

The encyclopedic guide has been Holmes’ project for the past few years, and it was finally published on Tuesday. But it wasn’t a stressful venture, as she explained in a way that reflected some of the blog’s distinctive wit: “I did all the things that I wasn’t able to do when I was running (Jezebel), like leaving my apartment, and seeing my friends.”

And while it hasn’t been on bookstore shelves long enough for much feedback, positive or negative (Jezebel writers were no stranger to the latter), Holmes said there has been reaction from Jezebel itself:

“We posted excerpts of the book on (the website), so I did see what commenters were saying about those isolated parts. Commenters liked the ones where they had an opportunity to talk about their own experience with something.

“They seemed to love the entry on Barbie dolls, as it provided a lot of nostalgia. People were able to talk about the Barbies they had when they were young, and how they may have defaced them in various ways.”

Locals will have an opportunity to speak with Holmes about “The Book of Jezebel” when she returns to her hometown for an appearance at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St., on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

With a chance to retreat back to her childhood home during the upcoming holiday season, she’ll also be using this interval to decide what her next big project will be.

“I’ll probably try to start another website,” she said. “I’m not sure what it will be. I can say, though, that it won’t be anything like Jezebel — I don’t want to repeat myself.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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