What is your story?
I’ve always been passionate about two things: the arts and storytelling (whether mine or someone else’s.) I’ve followed those passions in the work I’ve done, which has mostly worked out – luckily, as I can’t say I’m very good at planning. I grew up in a small town in Vermont that was the home of a progressive, innovative school called Goddard College, where my father was a professor and which attracted a community of smart, like-minded people who wanted to change the world. So even though it was a tiny Vermont village, I was exposed to all kinds of amazing artists and ideas. I was also a voracious and omnivorous reader, constantly escaping into stories. After college at Boston University and Sarah Lawrence College, where I focused on dance, I moved into New York’s East Village. I spent most of my 20’s there, performing with avant-garde downtown choreographers and performance artists, working at restaurants and clubs, going out to incredible, zeitgeist-changing clubs like Danceteria, Area, the Roxy and the Palladium. I was lucky enough to be a part of a vital creative scene full of artists of all kinds who were changing the culture: I was friendly with Madonna, saw hip-hop come out of the Bronx and into the world, saw RuPaul find himself at the Pyramid Club, where modern drag was born – and those are just a few of the high points.
In the late 80’s I visited a friend in Miami’s South Beach, intending to stay for a month. I’m still here. Which meant I was also part of the transformation of South Beach, from an oddly magical, dilapidated Art Deco village to an international tourist attraction and scene that was, once again, driven by artists and creative people – young designers, painters, performers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and nightclubbers. I started working for non-profit groups who were presenting cutting-edge dance, performance, music and other art from around the country as well as from Miami. I learned by doing – to write grants, to write press releases and run a publicity campaign, and all the running around and organizational work that goes into producing shows. So I went from being a performer to presenting performers, helping introduce exciting art to Miami when the city was an unsophisticated, not very cultured place – Miami Vice and Cocaine Cowboys, not Art Basel and international culture.
In the early 90’s I ended up in journalism, primarily because several female friends introduced me, in various ways, to journalists in Miami. I was drawn to them; they were passionate, funny, uninhibited, smart – almost as much fun as artists. At the same time, I learned to speak Spanish and fell in love with Cuban music and Juan Luis Guerra (who of course would go on to be one of the biggest stars in Latin music.) I started writing for local publications, and was soon freelancing reguarly for the Miami Herald, where I used my experience with avant-garde performance and nightlife, and my newfound passion for Latin music, to cover areas the paper wasn’t covering, making up in enthusiasm what I lacked in knowledge or skill. I think I was part of the last generation able to move into professional journalism without a degree; once again learning by doing. I made a lot of mistakes. (In journalism, no one ever tells you how to do something until you’ve done it wrong.) But it worked: I wrote, I got published, I got paid. I was ambitious and determined, and wrote for all kinds of publications, including the LA Times, a couple of times for the New York Times, and for a bunch of magazines which are no longer around. It was exhilarating. At the end of the 90’s the Herald finally hired me full time.
At the time, the Herald was a major regional paper and a powerful force in Miami, and to be part of that was a very big deal. But what was most exciting to me was the platform the paper gave me to tell the stories – about artists, about culture, about the city – that I thought were important, and to thereby make a difference. There are artists whose careers got a crucial boost because I wrote about them before anyone else, from Juanes, the Colombian pop star who’s one of the biggest stars in Latin music, to Rosie Herrera, a wonderful Miami choreographer. I wrote about Cuban music and culture from the island when that was extremely politically controversial in Miami, which opened doors and helped change attitudes here. I learned an incalculable amount from supremely accomplished editors, reporters and photographers, who made me better, who showed me more than I can say about craft, dedication, ingenuity and professional passion. And I learned, once more, by doing; interviewing billionaires and homeless people, teenage ballerinas and veteran divas; writing reviews in 45 minutes and spending a year on a project about Overtown, Miami’s historic black neighborhood. I not only witnessed and documented Miami’s growth, I was part of making it grow.
Unfortunately, the Herald, like so many other newspapers, has been hit hard by the downturn in journalism driven by the internet and social media. The staff was slashed repeatedly over the years, and I was laid off in 2017, the last staff arts writer there – in a staff that is probably 5% of what it was when I started. I still haven’t found work that’s as satisfying or as secure, and that’s been very difficult – especially since I’m the single mom of a teenage girl. For the moment, I’m trying to come up with larger, more creative and personal writing projects, the kind I never had time to do before; while also looking for new ways to sell my skills at writing and storytelling, mostly by working directly with artists and arts organizations, in marketing, content creation and the like. While I do some freelance journalism, there’s not enough of it, and it doesn’t pay enough, for me to do fulltime. I’ve also been able to do some volunteering on progressive causes and politics, which I could never do as a newspaper employee, and I hope that might lead to
What message do you like to promote to others?
Play a positive part in your community, and do something that makes a difference.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
By telling honest and perceptive stories about the people and forces that matter, that highlight and recognize their value.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to?
I went through a brutal divorce from my daughter’s father, who left me with a lot of debt, just as the economic downturn hit and the Herald cut all our salaries by 10%. Plus my editor, whom I was close to, died of cancer. Suddenly I was on my own with a four year old girl, an extremely demanding job, and much less money to manage expenses plus a ton of debt. I remember coming home with my girl at night sometimes, after picking her up from a friend’s house, staggering up the stairs to my porch with her collapsed in my arms, my computer and my purse on either shoulder, wondering if I was going to make it. But that same year I also finished and published my Overtown project, one of the best things I did as a journalist. Eventually I also paid off the debt and found a new economic balance in my life. Focusing on work helped give me the power and determination I needed to get through that time. Support from friends and community, people who took care of my daughter when I couldn’t afford babysitters and gave me all kinds of advice and help, were also crucial. So was spiritual and emotional support from a local synagogue, the first time I’d turned to Judiasm. The experience showed me I had a strength I didn’t know I had before, and that, if you create community, it will be there for you.
Did you have a Mentor, Coach or Sponsor along the way that was essential to your growth and success? If so, who was it and why?
Not one, but many editors have forced me to clarify my ideas, re-work my writing, to always do everything I could to make each story, each sentence, each word the best that I could make it at that moment. To keep doing the best you can, to keep trying to get better, because the work of writing demands it. To hit your deadlines, check your facts, be fair, be observant, honor your craft and be a pro.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Seeing someone’s face bloom because something you wrote captures something essential that no one else recognized before, or having someone tell you that one of your stories articulated something they felt or saw but couldn’t say. Discovering and telling a story worth hearing.
If you could give one piece of advice for women who are entering the workforce or launching their own business what would that be?
Follow your passion, your instincts, and the things and people that attract you. Be honest with yourself about what you like to do and what you’re good at. Don’t be afraid. Make a difference.
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Medium Page: https://medium.com/@JordanGLevinMIA