Sep 28, 2016
30 Under 30: Paula Mejia, Journalist and Author
Paula Mejia is a freelance 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, talked to 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. You might not agree with all of her opinions (Peaky Blinders is terrible!), but you can’t knock her hustle. 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.
Where do you live and how old are you?
I’m 25 and I live in Park Slope.
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened?
Since the time I could pick up a pencil, basically! I’ve always been interested in writing. There are some pretty terrible screenplays, journals, poems and articles I wrote as a child (thankfully offline), and I dressed up as a journalist more than once for Halloween. When I was a teenager I read SPIN and NME pretty religiously, but I didn’t think journalism, especially arts/culture journalism, was really ever a career possibility. I didn’t know of any other Latinas who were doing it, and didn’t see a lot of women’s bylines in popular magazines. I ended up taking a handful of journalism classes in college, but it was mostly via college radio that I got into this profession. And I haven’t stopped since.
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career?
It can be, but I think every year it gets tougher to make it work here. While there are singular resources and a wealth of opportunities in Brooklyn, it is oversaturated (as epicenters of culture can often be) and the rising cost of living certainly doesn’t help. It’s a complicated thing to navigate.
At the same time, since I’ve lived here I have been completely floored with the solidarity that exists particularly within peer groups. If you are open-minded, confident in your ideas, and also game to roll with the punches, other young people are willing to lend you a hand here. To me, that’s what continues to make Brooklyn a viable place for young people to build careers.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Still bringing my laptop to 169 Bar and eating $3 dumplings. Kidding(?). I could see myself working in T.V., or editing at a magazine or digital publication (unless, of course, in ten years we just beam articles directly into our brain). My dream job would be to do music supervision for film and/or T.V., but how people get into that line of work is a bit elusive to me.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
Totally. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t fantasized about throwing in the towel before. Journalism can be a rough, thankless, and exhausting profession. It often blurs the line between your personal and professional life, and honestly I don’t know where one ends and the other begins sometimes. I think it’s natural to think about the what ifs, but this career suits my temperament like nothing else. I thrive under pressure, can stay calm amidst chaos, and really enjoy staying up late, tailoring my own schedule and working hard while still pantsless.
What’s felt like your biggest professional accomplishment?
Writing a book for the 33 ⅓ series, and also talking about aliens with Gillian Anderson.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?
I’m going to pass along some sage advice that someone once gave me: “Trade prestige for opportunity.” I think there’s often a tendency to focus on the name-brand aspect of journalism instead of the stories themselves. But opportunities are opportunities, and it’s a process of building on your work however small it may seem at first. That gets you places. I mean, I got my start writing concert listings for alt-weeklies and reviewing albums. That led to listings and interviews at bigger publications, then features, and so on.
Who are your role models in your industry?
There are so many! And I’m honored to call many of these people my friends, including (but definitely not limited to) Brittany Spanos, Maria Sherman, and Amanda Petrusich.
Who would be your pick for a 30 Under 30?
Monica Castillo! She’s an awesome, incisive film writer and critic. She is helping change the game.
Should we all move to LA?
I mean…to be honest, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I lived in L.A. once, briefly, and I’d love to go back if the right opportunity came up. Moving out West is really a lifestyle change, I think, more than anything. If you get a rush from the pace here, have FOMO and can deal with being uncomfortable, stay in New York. If you’re into perpetual sunshine, wellness, art deco architecture, the nexus of the mountains and the city…wait, what am I still doing here?
To learn about 29 more sub-thirty standouts, visit this year’s list of 30 Under 30.
Image by Jane Bruce
You might also like
Guitar string maker D’Addario will move to Downtown Brooklyn
Community & Commerce
Community & Commerce