How times change. Before reality TV, and long before the word ‘tween was coined, the influential women’s magazine Mademoiselle launched a guest editor program for young, smart, aspiring female writers. Thousands applied each year, only twenty were selected for the coveted spots. The chosen traveled from all over the country, lived together for the month of June at the female-only, sorority-like Barbizon Hotel (not wholly unlike, it must be said, the cast of the reality TV show America’s Next Top Model) and produced the August “College Issue.” Guest editor alumnae include Joan Didion, Gael Greene, Ann Beattie and Mona Simpson, to name just a few. The program/internship began in 1939 and had its heyday in the 50s (Sylvia Plath was a fiction editor in ’53, the same summer she first tried to kill herself, as depicted in her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar). It went co-ed in the 70s and ended in 1979, long before the magazine folded in November 2001.
Young people still get chances, though. The youngest of the celebrity Kardashian clan, for example, Kendall and Kylie Jenner are on the cover of this month’s Seventeen magazine. Editor-in-chief Ann Shoket (who often appears as a judge on America’s Next Top Model), hired them as “West Coast Fashion Editors.” This wasn’t an internship, of course; they didn’t run anybody’s errands or work for school credit or have to demonstrate any editorial talent. And they didn’t work for free either. But it was another promotional coup for Editor Shoket, whose tenure has been a hit parade. In her first year at the helm, Seventeen has become the number one teen magazine on the newsstand (circulation 2 million), and online. Someday surely even the Jenners will agree with what fellow California kid Didion wrote later, in Slouching Towards Bethlehem: “the world as I had understood it no longer existed.”