You know about our love of Girl and Dream School, and their brilliant creator, Blake Nelson. But did you know how Blake Nelson got his big break? Our own Dana Goodyear sat down with Christine Muhlke, the executive editor of Bon Appétit and—once upon a time—the Sassy intern who discovered Blake Nelson in the slush pile. Christine has some great ’90s-era nostalgia to share from her star-studded time at Sassy.
Dana Goodyear: So set the scene for me. The year was . . .
Christine Muhlke: It was 1992. Sassy was in what was then the Pam Am building, across the street from Grand Central. It was Lang Media; they also owned Ms. My whole life was centered around trying to see Gloria Steinem in the ladies’ room. I’m sorry—women’s room. To get to where I sat, you had to walk through the fashion department, which was terrifying, because you would see Chloë Sevigny every morning. She was a fashion intern. I was so enamored of her coolness that I was struck dumb. Also, she was into the rave thing and I was still punk. She had wide pants; I had skinny corduroys. Behind the fashion department was a pod of editors. It was this gab fest. I sat on the floor in front of the coat closet. That was a pain in the winter. I sat at Christina Kelly’s feet. I want to say she was the entertainment editor. She did Cute Band Alert. She was the queen bee of that pod. She was probably 28, which to me was like 90. I was 20. I really wanted to be an intern at Harper’s, but I couldn’t do the math for the Readings page.
Were there a lot of interns?
I was lucky. I got taken out of the intern room—I think it used to be the Good Housekeeping test kitchen. They were in there collating all day, or cutting out sweepstakes applications with scissors and pasting them onto pieces of cardboard.
What kind of stuff did you do?
I didn’t get paid, so they would send me to screenings and events and things like that. I used to run out of money for food. I got my first freelance assignment because I went to a lunch where I ate everything on my plate and everything on the plate of the guy sitting next to me. He said, “If you can write like you can eat, you’re hired.” He worked at a tiny music magazine. I did a piece for him, and was the first person to write about Jeff Buckley.
The whole Kurt and Courtney thing was a big deal for me. I was obsessed with Nirvana because I’d seen them in the Hampshire College cafeteria a few times. I begged Christina to take me to the interview. We went to Time Café.
Sounds like it was a fun place to be.
It was very smart, very bitchy, very competitive, but also supportive. They were just having a ball. And they were the coolest girls in town. It was really revenge of the nerds.
I think it was just a couple of chapters. I was reading so much in those days. I rejected most of Melissa Bank’s Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
I was reading so much that the good stuff really stuck out. You were just getting rando shit. I would take pages out of the really bad ones. Because it was the nineties, I called it Deconstructed Fiction. I’d take the worst page of the worst submission and frame it and hang it in my house. I still have one hanging in my bathroom. It was soft teen porn, like Harlequin romances.
Did you really Blake’s submission on Christina’s desk with a Post-it that said “Evil Genius”?
That sounds like me.