When I spoke to Debbie Stoller (GRD ’87) on a weekday afternoon, she spent the first ten minutes of our conversation poking around under her bed for a favorite shirt and trying to keep her dog away from the UPS man. Not the standard workday for a rising young magazine editor, but then Stoller, who co-founded and co-edits Bust, has always been a bit different. After getting a Ph.D in Psychology of Women, she headed to New York to create websites for Nickelodeon and to work in feminist-friendly media. Bust is more likely to run ads from independent record labels than from cosmetics companies. Its tone-frank, funny, and big-sister hip-recalls old-school Sassy. Since 1993, Stoller and her partners, Marcelle Karp and designer Laurie Henzel, have turned Bust from a xeroxed zine to a glossy magazine that gets distributed in Borders, prints rants by Courtney Love, and featured Missy Elliot on its last cover. Bust was given several inches of column space in this summer’s Time cover story, “Is Feminism Dead?” Although the story’s writers concluded that yes, feminism is dead, and that image-oriented pop culture magazines like Bust are part of the problem, Stoller herself contends that the women’s movement is alive and well.
I’m going to put you on speaker phone now.
Yay! I’m on speaker phone. Why am I on speaker phone? You don’t have one of those little phone tape recorder thingies where you can plug it into the phone? Linda Tripp-like, you know. Where is my damn shirt? What’s it like in New Haven today?
It’s nice. Kind of one of those New England autumns.
Yeah?the sky there was always so beautiful. I lived on Chapel Street, across the street from the art school. I lived upstairs from a Chinese restaurant, across from Jong’s. I loved watching the people go back and forth. That was my best apartment.
So how did you end up at Yale?
I put myself through college. I went to a really crappy state school because I had to pay for it myself, and I was barely able to swing that, washing dishes at the cafeteria. I wanted out of there so bad that I graduated in two and a half years, and then I applied to all these grad schools. I was interested in going into psychobiology, brain and behavior, and when you go into a field like that, they pay you to be a student, because they expect you to teach and do research. So I knew I wasn’t going to have to pay, which is how I could manage to do it. Then Yale called me and I was off in Holland doing research, and I said, of course, of course, I’ll come to Yale, that’s so exciting-what I wanted for my whole life was to go to a fancy school like that for free. My parents were so overwhelmed-no one in my family had ever gone to an Ivy school. They were so floored and excited, that in the middle of the night after I told them they got worried and thought maybe someone was pulling my leg. In the morning they called Yale to make sure it was true.
How did you get into doing psychology of women?
After about two years of doing psychobiology, I realized that it wasn’t for me-I was good at it, but when I started at Yale I was 20, and I was kind of a big fuck-up. Finally, finally I had made it to the cool school and I was so happy and so excited. My college had been full of frat boys and sorority girls and I was like the outcast freak, and at Yale I was meeting all these great people and it was like an embarrassment of riches, just overwhelming. I spent more time hanging out at the caf