Sep 26, 2016
30 Under 30: The Envy Index
Plenty of lines get tossed around about Millennials: They have no respect for elders; they’re entitled; they don’t read; they’re up-talkers. Well, maybe some are. But if we’ve confirmed anything about Millennials in the last few weeks, as we got to know dozens of the best and brightest from Brooklyn’s New Guard—our annual list of 30 Under 30—on several field trips to Coney Island, it’s that they can also put most of the rest of us to shame. To say nothing of their accomplishments, they’re driven, engaged, and kind; they’ve read more in a month than you’ve read this year; they’re also funny as hell and place real value on having a good time. Clearly, it’s working for them. Get to know these names and faces. Because they’ll keep popping up in all the right places as they continue to make their art, advocate for their causes, push boundaries, and keep it real for decades to come.
27 | Art Director, Designer
Imagine being blindsided with a major hip condition, needing multiple surgeries, and then relearning—not once, but twice—how to walk. This is what Kirstin Huber had to deal with two years ago, when she was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia. But Huber, an art director and designer (in-house with New York City’s Public Theater) wore it as a badge, using her experience and recovery to further her dive into the performing arts. This year, she had a residency with The Bellwether, a Brooklyn-based independent arts collective, and has spent more time working with her band, Curry Puffs.
Huber’s work at The Public Theater is wide-ranging and widely-seen; her proudest accomplishment was designing subway posters for the theater’s Shakespeare in the Park shows alongside Paula Scher, a leader in the field of graphic designs. All things considered, Huber says she sometimes freaks out about just how lucky she’s been.
Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins
23 & 24 | Musicians
There’s a long history of gender fluidity and drag in rock music, from David Bowie to Roxy Music, Twisted Sister, k.d. lang, Kurt Cobain, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Against Me! and many (many) others. But it’s always easier to put on a mask than to be yourself. This is what sets Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins’s band, PWR BTTM, apart.
Even when Hopkins has half their face covered in blue glitter, or when Hopkins is in a dress and bright red lipstick, they don’t seem to be characters—they look like themselves. It’s this holistic adoption of what some consider outré that’s made them one of this year’s most inescapable bands, feted by NPR and PAPER, among others. Both Bruce and Hopkins are genderqueer, and play around with genders and stereotypes in their lyrics and stage personae. Of course, their popularity is helped by how purely enjoyable their music is, pleasingly fuzzy in the tradition of ‘90s alt-rock, complete with arpeggiated guitar solos.
29 | Social advocate, Brunch host
What is brunch, exactly? It’s a meal (sort of), but it’s also an excuse to get together with the people you like, or you want to know better, share some food, and have a good time.
This is what Everyday People, Saada Ahmed’s brunch series is all about. It’s what Brothers & Sisters, her monthly salon is all about, too. These events are safe spaces: for kids, for women of color, and for anyone to come and relax, share their ideas, and not worry about creeps creeping on them. Also, let’s be real, it’s a great opportunity to be near Ahmed, a driven and successful person who, oh, you know, is so stylish she’s been profiled on J. Crew’s blog. Also we bet the food is great!
29 | Cinematographer
Plainly, Ashley Connor is trusted as a collaborator, especially by artists trying to envision themselves in the world. Watch the music videos she’s shot: the NYC hyperrealism of Chairlift’s “Crying in Public”; the cutting photo-shoot satires of Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl”; Jenny Lewis’s “Just One of the Guys”; the richly lit, cinematic look of Julianna Barwick’s “Same”; Jenny Hval’s “That Battle Is Over”, and the direct address of Angel Olsen’s newest singles.
Expect more features in the up-and-coming, as indie filmmakers with newly expanded budgets come calling for Connor’s intuitive, organic working methods. Tramps, a seat-of-the-pants tri-state caper, just had its world premiere in Toronto; Human People, starring Abbi Jacobsen and Michael Cera, is soon to follow.
25 | News Producer, Comic
If one were to draw a Venn diagram that encompasses the New York digital media world and the New York comedy scene, you’d find plenty of names somewhere in the middle. A news producer at Mic, Gabe Gonzalez got his start in the comedy world, training at the famed Second City theater in Chicago. It’s there he learned how to infuse political commentary with a sense of humor. Thanks to social media, and the fact that everyone with a phone also has a camera, it’s easier than ever to find an audience. But it’s tougher to keep that audience, though Gonzalez has done that well. With a fresh perspective, a sharp sense of humor, and a genuinely curious and open-minded worldview, Gonzalez has built and retained an audience just by being himself.
25 | Author, Journalist
Paula Mejia is a writer living her best life in Brooklyn. According to her Twitter, in just about a week, she partied with her girls at Times Square sadness hole Guy’s American Kitchen, read a piece about blood cults at cool kids reading series Drunk TED Talks, and watched Daria on her birthday. Pretty solid.
Oh, also? She’s written about 10,000 articles. Recently, she covered Sharon Jones for ELLE, reviewed the Shia-LaBeouf-starring Cannes favorite American Honey for Film Comment, interviewed a member of resurgent ‘90s rap group Digable Planets for The Village Voice, and wrote an ode to Peaky Blinders for Rolling Stone. In her career, she’s also contributed to NPR, The New York Times, and authored a 33 1/3 book on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. Writing isn’t for the lazy or the entitled these days. It’s for people with a lot to say and the passion to say it. No wonder Mejia is doing so well.
26 | Literary Advocate
Excuse us for being crass, but Yahdon Israel is stylish as fuck. Google him, and you’ll find pictures of him in Louboutin sneakers, a brightly colored dashiki which he’s somehow found loafers to match, or an incredible leather jacket. So, when The New School alum was sitting on the subway and spotted someone wearing a dope outfit and reading a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, he snapped a picture, added the hashtag #literaryswag, and put it on Instagram. Game recognizes game. He didn’t know then that a hashtag would come to define a movement, and his current life’s work: to make reading cool by showing how hot books can be. He now donates money from his student loans to the super users of the #literaryswag, which now has more than 12,000 posts. He has interviewed writers like Junot Diaz and Ta-Nehisi Coates for his Instagram and been profiled in places like Man Repeller and The Huffington Post.
Silvia Barban and Giulia Pelliccioni
27 & 28 | Restaurateurs
There’s a mini Italian food empire growing in Fort Greene, and the two women leading it brought back from Italy a passion for food and a savvy for business. Beginning with Aita, the rustic Italian eatery on the corner of Greene and Waverly that soon expanded to an adjoining bar called The Mayflower, co-owners Giulia Pelliccioni and Silvia Barban brought authentic Italian dining to the neighborhood and managed to avoid the obvious dishes you’d find in places across the city.
This year, the pair has opened a new restaurant just a few blocks north on Myrtle Avenue called LaRina Pastificio & Vino, with head chef Barban crafting fresh, homemade pasta daily.
30 | LGBTQ+ Advocate
It’s easy to forget, especially in a place like New York City, that queer people are more often than not in need of safe spaces to maintain their physical and emotional well being. Charlie Solidum prioritizes the underserved members of the queer community. You may have seen his face this year gracing one of the many posters across the city, sponsored by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, that reminds all New Yorkers of their right to use the bathroom most consistent with their gender identity. Solidum’s presence in New York reiterates the work done to ensure safe spaces for everyone across the five boroughs, and his passion for ensuring health and medical services for members of the trans community proves that he’s more than a poster boy for a movement—he’s actively working to extend the city’s most valuable resources to those who need it most.
Dean Buck, Daniel Ellis-Ferris, and Brianna Maury
26, 27 & 26 | LoftOpera Founders
Opera is one of the most enduring performance art forms, but it is probably the most exclusive. A ticket to the Met can set one back nearly a hundred dollars (that is if you’re fine with sitting far away). And, it’s quite challenging—unlike mainstream musical theater, operas do not take their musical cues from pop music. The founders of LoftOpera—Dean Buck, Daniel Ellis-Ferris, and Brianna Maury—want to flip the opera world on its head, bringing a woefully elite style of theater to the masses. They’re doing so by bringing it to places off the L or the G trains, where you won’t see many audience members in ball gowns or tails. Can they make Verdi cool again? That might be tough, but with $30 tickets, they’ll certainly get a lot more people into those seats, and they’ll be much closer to the stage.
26 | Chef
Though Jake Novick-Finder was raised in Brooklyn—and currently heads up the kitchen at Park Slope’s outstanding seasonal restaurant, Gristmill—he made his name as a pastry chef in the confusingly similarly named Brookline, MA. He was the pastry chef at a restaurant there called Ribelle, a place that burned hotly and brightly: its chef/owner, Tim Maslow, produced upmarket twists on comfort food (which drew the inevitable David Chang comparisons), and quickly got the attention of places like the James Beard Foundation and Food & Wine magazine. Novick-Finder’s similarly Changian work (“chocolate dipped twists, cake from a box, and refrigerator aisle pudding cups,” according to Star Chefs) earned him a spot on another 30 Under 30 List, from Zagat, last year; but make sure to enjoy his latest creations—a dip into richly-flavored ancient grains and seasonal ingredients—now, in Park Slope.
26 | Coffee Roaster and Barista
Ever since The Campbell Apartment and the Junior’s in Grand Central Terminal closed, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing to do there. Well! Grand Central still has a few surprises up its massive marble sleeves.
For instance, there’s Agern, a stylish seasonal restaurant, part of the hospitality group started by Danish culinary giant, Claus Meyer. That’s where you’ll find Omar Maagaard, the head barista and roaster, a man who’s been committed to coffee for his entire life. He grew up at a coffee shop owned by his father, the TriBeca Espresso Bar in Denmark, and basically never left. He’s won both second and third place in the Danish Barista Championships, as well as 2nd place in the National Brewers Cup. Currently, Maagaard roasts for Meyer’s undertaking in Red Hook but, in the near future, he will bring his coffee expertise to Brownsvillle, roasting on site for Meyer’s latest endeavor, an affordable culinary school and restaurant.
Darlene Okpo and Lizzy Okpo
29 & 26 | Fashion designers
Last year was a big one for sisters Darlene Okpo and Lizzy Okpo. Former employees of Opening Ceremony, they were already working on their own fashion line, named William Okpo, after their father, when things broke wide open for them. They opened their own boutique in the South Street Seaport, reviewed rapturously by The New York Times for its “mirthful eccentricity.” They put out two collections of luxuriously voluminous pants and tops in a range of vibrant colors and denims. And, you know, got profiled in Vogue.
28 | Poet, Advocate
An unwillingness to budge is a good way to put your stamp on the world, and Morgan Parker has managed to do so with a passionate, uncompromising voice that examines black femininity in current American culture. Her poetry has appeared in some of the usual publications poems do (Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, Tin House) and in some more
surprising venues (BuzzFeed and Lenny Letter). That’s a testament to how her work speaks to readers who might not seek out sparse verses but nevertheless find themselves affected by her words. But the establishment has caught on to her, too; Eileen Myles selected Parker for the 2013 Gatewood Prize, and in 2016 she earned the Pushcart Prize. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming collection from Tin House next February, the perfectly titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé.
29 | Nonprofit Professional
Everyone loves winning, the feeling that comes from knowing you did something right. With her father, a lawyer who often helped clients facing financial or familial struggles, and her mother, a nurse who literally saved lives, Arianne Keegan’s career as a Nonprofit Professional has come to her naturally.
Co-founder of both She/Folk (Advocating the power of voice for females) and Call Them Out, Florida! (A grassroots effort at calling out Senators and House Representatives who support anti-abortion or anti-female health legislation) she revels in reaching out, wanting to be a part of the collective to further the message of these movements. And bringing others into the fold, she says, always feels like a huge victory. Especially as a lifer—she’s never considered a career that doesn’t aid the social justice causes she believes in—those victories mean an awful lot.
27 | Contributing writer for newyorker.com
Sometimes—not often—you read output from a brain that is so adept with language, so nuanced in its understanding, and so broad in its interests that it will make you feel, simultaneously, both more enlightened and less smart. After all, you’ll consider so much that you hadn’t thought of before, but you’ll also understand you’re incapable of producing anything even remotely as good.
World, meet Jia Tolentino; rather, meet the brain of Jia Tolentino, which, over and over at The New Yorker online, it (Tolentino’s brain) provides the experience outlined above. In Tolentino’s last four articles, she covered Amy Schumer, Carly Rae Jepsen, cyborgs, and a DJ duo called The Chainsmokers, but in doing so she also demonstrated that these were merely convenient—albeit sufficiently interesting—subjects from which to explore the broader social, political, cultural, racial, philosophical (etc.) context in which they reside. So, Tolentino, thanks for being the kind of writer and teacher who shows us just how much more we have to learn, and how exciting that can be.
22 | Musician
When you see New York City in music videos, it usually comes in a few stock forms: slick streets at midnight, ballcourts, some shitty bar, or gross club. That’s not my New York, and it’s not rapper DonMonique’s, either. In her music videos, she lives in a New York that you might actually recognize if you live here. She hangs out in house parties at some random person’s apartment, shadowy stairwells full of orange emergency light, and an arcade.
On her debut EP, this year’s Thirst Trap, DonMoquie raps slowly over twinkly, hypnotic beats. Her voice is distorted and echoey, it slows down and reverses before moving forward again. It pretty accurately replicates the feeling of being fucked up out of your mind, which is maybe why it’s lately become the absolute hardest way to rap. As one YouTube commenter (Mars, avatar an alien eating pizza) said: “this shit dope af.”
Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree
27 & 29 | Performance artists
Sobierajski and Jeffree are a pair of married artists and designers whose 2015 project Complements—a series of lovingly wacky and occasionally alarming selfies—was featured in places like T Magazine and PAPER, before eventually being turned into a book. Sobierajski is also a designer and art director who has worked with clients like Bloomberg Businessweek, Google, and Target, Tate Modern, and UNIQLO among many others. Jeffree is a designer who has worked with the New York/London firm, Mother (they produce extremely cool graphics) for organizations like Collective Design, the Sundance Film Festival, and New York Fashion Week. Sobierajski and Jeffree’s work is Memphis-inspired simple, colorful, and fun. Or, you could just call it, “super cool.”
26 | Writer and Sex Educator
If you’re like me, you learned about sex from pornography, stand-up comedy, and Jarvis Cocker. To say the least, I could have had better teachers—take Lena Solow, for example. She’s dedicated her professional life to giving young people positive, realistic views of sex. She’s a sex educator, the author of a Teen Vogue column about sex, and an employee of sex toy shop, Babeland, where she recently led a unionization effort. It’s basically impossible to overstate how important this work is, and how deep and long-lasting its effects can be. Just imagine if you thought all your weird sex stuff wasn’t weird, and you could discuss it openly with all of your partners? You’d probably be a lot happier. But maybe you’re already like that. My sex teachers were pretty weird.
28 | Healthcare Worker Advocate
If you’ve spent time in a hospital, you know the chaos—the doctors and nurses and orderlies rushing around in order to help an endless line of patients. But every now and then those employees need a savior, too. Enter Michelle Crentsil, who has advocated on behalf of those same health advocates as part of the Service Employees International Union. At heart—and ever since she was as kid—Crentsil’s concern and work has centered on pervasive injustices. More recently, she has advocated with SEIU on behalf of workers at New York City airports for higher employee wages. And next, she’ll bring her passion to Open Philanthropy Project, where she will work as a program associate in criminal justice reform.
And all of this is quite a relief; after all, when someone is looking out for those who look after everyone else, they’re better able to look after us, too.
Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova
29 & 30 | Performers and Co-founders at House of Yes
The term “nightlife” can get a bad rap—at least when it involves velvet ropes, bottle service, and black-out drunkenness. But Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova, artists, performers, and co-founders of House of Yes in Bushwick provide an inestimably relieving and straight-up exciting alternative
to all of that.
Sapozhnikova and Burke met at 16 and bonded over an interest in performance art and forming a community around it. Nightlife, they felt—and feel—should be about acceptance of ourselves and others and an openness to new things; in short, a mantra that begins and ends with the word “Yes.” Since they reopened House of Yes on New Year’s Eve last year, that is the kind of space they have provided: immersive, and, quite frankly, thrilling late night parties involving aerial acrobatics, sex-positive vibes, film, dance, food pairings, and drink. Rather than waking up hungover or drained in the morning, you’ll wake up with a brand new idea of what is possible when community, art, and positive energy collide, come night.
25 | Public Advocate
Wherever you go in New York City, whatever you read, and whomever you talk to, there are a few topics that tend to dominate the conversation, including
gentrification, education, and environment. Alex Gleason, a Policy Associate and Adjunct Professsor who works for the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and teaches at a number of different colleges throughout the city, spends his days advocating for reforms related to these issues, and spends the rest of his time researching possible solutions.
In a city teeming with young people building careers, he thinks it is still
a great place to start—but maybe not for long, unless some of these deep-rooted problems begin to change. Gleason loves what he does, and hopes to return to school to earn his Ph.D.—but he’s got no intention of retreating to an ivory tower from there; he thrives when his boots are on the ground, actively working to create or force meaningful change.
27 | Writer
Many young people who write amusing things on the Internet have a similar goal: to get that precious New Yorker byline or to leave the media world entirely and write for television. Hallie Cantor has done both, with her writing regularly appearing in the venerable magazine’s “Shouts and Murmurs” section and having worked on the writing team on the sketch series Inside Amy Schumer and Maya & Marty. Cantor’s best work pokes fun at the indignities of young womanhood with a refreshingly light touch—envisioning daily anxieties as TV pitches and narrating a drunken venture home through the voice of a GPS system—and, perhaps more impressively, without the typical twee trappings of an early adulthood sense of humor.
Sophie Saint Thomas
28 | Writer
In an era when most of us are desensitized to the most taboo topics, writer Sophie Saint Thomas still manages to find subjects that seem pretty shocking (or, at the very least, you may not send many of her articles to your mom). With regular bylines at Vice and Broadly, she has spent the summer writing about people with surprising interests—couples who get off on tattooing each other, real-life vampires who search for human blood, and neo-pagans who concoct love potions for the bedroom. But Saint Thomas is able to write about her subjects without an exploitative streak, which is perhaps the toughest skill of all: to make the extraordinary somehow ordinary—amusingly titillating and recognizably human all at once.
27 | Poet, Advocate
Angel Nafis is, like many of her generation, a multi-hyphenate, someone who can’t be described with even a handful of words. Her work, likewise, is also too multifaceted to easily describe. Her poems have been published in Poetry Magazine, The Rumpus, and in her own collection, BlackGirl Mansion. And what makes them so powerful is her ability to take pieces of expansive ideas and flip them around in her own succinct words. She tackles the personal and the political—which, as a queer black woman, are inseparable. Like many artists who grew up without seeing their personal identities reflected in the mainstream, Nafis has brought her inner world onto the page—or, just as frequently, in performance spaces. She is the founder, curator, and host of the Greenlight Bookstore Poetry Salon, and, along with Morgan Parker, is a member of the black feminist poetry duo Other Black Girl Collective.
28 | Filmmaker
This year’s short film ominibus, collective:unconscious, brought together five local filmmakers to adapt one another’s dreams. But Frances Bodomo’s Everybody Dies cuts through the magic realism: a public-access children’s show hosted by a tearful Grim Reaper, who serenades the kiddies with lullabies to prepare them for a life of state violence against black bodies, before dropping the hammer.
Bodomo was born in Ghana, raised in Norway and Hong Kong, and educated at Columbia University and NYU’s Tisch film school. Her debut short “Boneshaker” (2013), starring Quvenzhané Wallis as a rambunctious seven-year-old getting the demons out in the Louisiana bayou, is intimate, textured and emotionally volatile. Her second short, “Afronauts” (2014), was inspired by the true story of the Zambia Space Academy, and was one of the eight projects selected for the Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab this June.
27 | Skater and founder of Jenkem Magazine
If you are not an insider in the world of skateboarding—most of us—it might seem an inscrutable place. On one hand the proclivity to want to ride around on a board and wheels is understandable (looks fun enough), but it also gives the distinct impression that there is a lot more going on in the practice of it than meets the eye. Ian Michna is an insider on the skateboard scene, a journalist (including a writer on the skate feature in this issue) and the founder, in 2011, of Jenkem Magazine, which provides little-seen, comprehensive, and nuanced insights into the exciting, intimidating, often goofy, multi-faceted, and talent-heavy skate-scape. While skating has gained a lot more cultural clout recently (as a sport in the 2020 olympics, and with immense cash prizes in competition), Michna and his team at Jenkem show us just how much more—from the very low- to the significantly higher-brow—skating can be.
29 | Film Director
Ricky D’Ambrose’s most recent short film, “Six Cents in the Pocket,” was made as a technical exercise: an attempt to work out some ideas about composition and editing, and to practice working out a distinct aesthetic on a shoestring budget. It ended up screening at last fall’s New York Film Festival, and was called “revelatory” by The New Yorker’s Richard Brody.
It’s also a very New York story, dwindling down into a particular type of urban loneliness and detachment, before a glorious climactic sequence, a “long walk” through familiar Brooklyn streets, rendered wintry and depopulated in static images, eloquent in their emptiness. While most low-budget filmmaking today is defined by chance and chaos, quotation and improvisation, D’Ambroses’s shorts aspire to a classical formal rigor—rigor in the sense of self-denial and spiritual transcendence.
29 | Illustrator
Originally hailing from Tokyo, Japan and now residing in Clinton Hill, Kei Meguro, 29, is living her own version of the American Dream. Starting in 2013—she worked as a full-time graphic designer until then—she’s been a full-time illustrator, her own boss, and one of the preeminent follows on Instagram. If you’re one of the 235,000 of them, chances are you’ve seen her illustrations—commissioned or not—of Cara Delevingne, Conor McGregor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and many more in between.
Though she’s designed and illustrated for international clients (HBO, Chanel, Spotify, to name a few) she thinks her greatest personal feat was a collaboration with a large Japanese jewelry brand, which super-sized her drawings and featured them in stores, train stations, and magazine ads. For her family to be able to see what she’d been up to since coming to Brooklyn was priceless.
30 | Writer
You might have seen Haley Mlotek’s byline in nearly every publication that matters—The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Village Voice, even in the pages of this very magazine. If you’ve read it, Mlotek has probably written for it. Her writing occupies that genre-less space; it’s not quite strictly personal, not entirely journalistic. Her voice is distinct, even if she’s not writing about herself. When you read one of her pieces, you notice her presence—not an overwhelming one by any means, but casually standing by, steering you in the right direction. As an editor, she’s seen her name on the masthead at The Hairpin; these days, she’s covering style for MTV News.
Photos by Jane Bruce
Written by Chris Chafin, Tyler Coates, Evan Romano, Mark Asch, and Natalie Rinn.
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