• Hannah Giorgis

    Photo credit: Naima Green

    Writing as a Radical Act: Three Questions for Hannah Giorgis ’13

    Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hannah Giorgis ’13 is a writer, activist, and special projects editor for The Ringer. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Guardian, as well as online at BuzzFeed, The Toast, and Jezebel. She’s been lauded for her “witty yet unapologetic commentary on race relations in the U.S.,” as well as her ability inspire her readers to tackle and understand difficult issues. While at Dartmouth, she majored in English, modified with African and African American Studies (AAAS). She lives in New York. Visit Giorgis’ website to learn more about her and read some of her work.

How did Dartmouth help you become a writer?

I'd always loved reading and writing, but AAAS classes like Professor Soyica Colbert's courses on black literature or Professor George Trumbull's Africa and the World challenged me to elevate both the content and style of my writing. Courses like Professor Sam Vásquez's Caribbean literature class showed me ways in which writing can be a radical act, a way of challenging colonial structures while connecting with people across the African diaspora. The AAAS program's emphasis on interdisciplinary learning sharpened the skill I try to use most often in my writing: thinking through a given question, idea, or problem by exploring the multiple factors affecting it. At its best, writing challenges both the writer and the reader to see the complex within what might seem simple at first glance – to make connections. AAAS classes reminded me regularly that there is always something behind what I first assume; that instinct has been invaluable to me as a writer.

You’ve written a wide range of pieces, from personal essays about your name and Amharic, your first language, to profiles of artists like Young M.A. and Ava DuVernay. What is your writing process?

My writing process definitely changes based on subject matter, timing, mood, weather–you name it. Generally, I'll have an idea gnawing at me for a while before I decide I want to pursue it. When I was freelancing, that meant pitching an editor as a way of forcing myself to start writing (the piece I wrote about The Weeknd for Pitchfork a couple years ago is a good example of this; I'd been wanting to write it for years, but I didn't sit down and do it until after I emailed Jess Hopper, a senior editor at Pitchfork at the time, and she gave me a deadline). As a staff writer/editor though, my writing process is more built into my daily routine; I have a bunch of ideas floating around my head (and GoogleDocs) at any given time, and I prioritize them based on things like release dates if I'm writing film/TV/music-centric pieces or when my interviews are scheduled. All my work is pretty heavily researched, even things that seem personal at first glance; that's easily the most important part of my process. I want my writing to exist in conversation with other works, to respect the work of writers and activists who came before me, so I'm very invested in citing heavily. Some pieces start with a meticulous outline; others are more discovery-based. Sometimes writing feels like pulling out my own teeth without anesthesia; other times it's like I sit down in front of a blank GoogleDoc and go into a fugue state. 

You’re a prolific user of Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Is social media an effective tool for activism?

Social media is one of many effective tools for activism. In so many ways, it's democratized the public communication process. Where before you would've needed to mail in a letter to the editor to respond to media, now you can do so in a public forum just by using Twitter or Tumblr. Lawmakers can be pressured online, protests can be planned, crucial information can be disseminated. On a more human level, social media can function simply as a space to connect users to one another–and that's an incredibly useful feature for community-building. Of course, social media–like any tool–has its limits: not all organizing campaigns can exist without an "IRL" [In Real Life] component of some sorts, digital security can be difficult to maintain (especially with increased surveillance of vulnerable communities), and trolls regularly target marginalized communities. But even with those concerns, I'm glad it's one of many resources activists can turn to.