Midnight Breakfast

An Ongoing Conversation

by Rebecca Rubenstein

In December 2008, Nevan and I, along with our good friends Cori Johnson and Gabriel Aronson, were trying to figure out how to stay in touch with one another post-college. I was actually still in my last year of undergraduate in New York, but Nevan, Cori, and Gabe had spread to the wind: Nevan had recently journeyed to Seattle, Cori was home in Los Angeles, and Gabe had crossed the pond to London. Communication is something that means a great deal to the four of us, and none of the tools at our disposal seemed to fit our needs. Email was too impersonal. Snail mail we loved, but it was just that—too slow. Phone calls would incur international charges, while video calls would incur the usual frustrations of frozen faces and clipped speech. Facebook was…Facebook. We needed something better, something that felt low-commitment enough for our busy lives but kept things moving all the same. We wanted the conversation to continue as though we were all in the same room, even if we weren’t.

As a web designer, Nevan was already attuned to the art of the tumblog (the impetus for Tumblr and also, I might add, a very awkward word) and recommended we give it a go. It seemed ideal—we could post articles we were reading around the web, short films that intrigued us, music that jolted us awake, and pretty much anything we fancied. We decided to call it Midnight Breakfast, after our college’s twice-yearly ritual. If you haven’t been to a midnight breakfast, it’s exactly what it sounds like: everyone gathers in the cafeteria in the middle of the night to stuff their faces with eggs and waffles. They revel in each other’s company and trade stories before embarking on a weeklong marathon of last-minute research, speed-fueled writing, sleepless nights, and pizza deliveries to the library. Midnight Breakfast always meant community and remembering why you kept the friends you did, but it was also an opportunity to pause, to listen to what these friends had to say, even amidst the impending maelstrom of work.

Midnight Breakfast launched in its first iteration in May 2009 and lasted for about a year. A few close friends knew about it, but mainly, it was for us. Our little internet nook. It remained active through several relocations—Nevan and Gabe both moved back to New York, while I high-tailed it to Dublin and Cori shimmied up to San Francisco—and then tapered off once our professional lives and time zone differences eventually got the best of us.

Never one to let personal projects go, Nevan emailed Cori and me early in 2011. “I have a new (old) idea that I’m kind of excited about,” he wrote. “Print. I think Midnight Breakfast should be in print.” He unspooled a plan that involved working with writers and deadlines, and eventually crowdfunding the project. He wanted to turn it into a literary magazine. He wanted to invite others to join our ongoing conversation.

I was still in Dublin at the time, working as a children’s bookseller at Waterstones. Though I’d left the States to pursue a master’s in film theory, my daily proximity to books left its mark. I found myself surrounded by people who loved books, who read them with the same voracity with which they downed their pints. Literature, sci-fi, graphic novels—it didn’t matter. Words meant fair game. Because of this, I began reading more, with a similar hunger, and that was when I began writing fiction again. It had been a while. By switching my attention fully to film, I’d forgotten just how much language can cradle you. I’d forgotten its safety and also, its tenacity.

So when Nevan proposed the idea, I thought, Yes. Of course. This makes sense.I’d grown up with literary magazines, discovering The Believer and McSweeney’sas a teenager. I loved the way they embraced the visceral and funny and strange. They seemed intent on bringing strong writing to the table, no matter who had written it. No one cared if you had a million books under your belt or none—story was the most important thing. I’d always wanted to do that—create a home for writers, especially the risk-takers and the fearless—but it never seemed like it was in the cards. You needed collaborators for that sort of thing. People who shared your interests. People who wouldn’t bat an eye if you wanted to talk about why this one adjective in this one sentence was the best use of word choice you’d ever come across.

Yes. Of course. This makes sense.

Though Midnight Breakfast as print journal never took flight, and Gabe and Cori had to leave the project to pursue larger—and better—career opportunities (let’s just say Kanye West and Broadway were involved on Gabe’s end), we’re pretty ecstatic about how things turned out. After two-and-a-half years of further planning, Taylor joined us with his own desire to work on a literary magazine and to help craft and hone the little details. We’d all collaborated before, as editors on our college’s web magazine, so it felt like a natural juncture, to work together. Things hit full swing last summer, and eight months later, just shy of a normal gestation period, here we are. It’s not exactly a baby, but sometimes it feels close enough.

We couldn’t be happier.