R Kurt Osenlund
March 2015 - Managing Editor, Out
What did you want to become when you were a child?
I wanted to be an actor or a visual artist. I was a ham and I was also drawing from the moment I could operate a pencil. I found that I was too self-conscious for the former, so I pursued the latter up until about midway through college, when I decided to get into journalism. But both passions fueled my love for film and entertainment, which is still what I write about most.
You have been the Managing Editor of OUT Magazine for a year, what was your vision when you came onboard?
I don't know if I had a vision so much as a desire to intimately familiarize myself with a brand I loved while also striving to improve it further by bringing my own skills to the table, which include an extensive knowledge of film and celebrity culture. What I learned quickly was that, while I was hired for a reason, I needed to establish a sense of trust among my colleagues, so I knew what I could ask of them and foster mutual respect. My mission then, if not my vision, became maintaining the most and best communication possible. That is by far and away the most important thing when it comes to managing people: communication. It's the most important thing in any relationship, really.
What drives you?
I actually had to process this question for a few minutes. It sounds so simple but it's not. I know that I was built to do what I do, and virtually every aspect of my industry drives me, but that's limiting my drive to my profession, and there are greater drives than what we do for a living, even if we do what we love. I think the simplest answer is beauty. I'm an extremely visually-oriented person, and I'm a junkie for the lavish and the ornate, but also the clean and the minimalistic. I'm not ashamed to say I'm drawn to beautiful people who present themselves beautifully and create beautiful things, but the most inspiring individuals are always, without fail, those who carry inner beauty in equal measure. That's such a battered cliche, but it's so true. A good friend of mine is one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen, and he's an artist who creates gorgeous work, but he's a beautiful soul, and that's why we're close.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far:
I have three accomplishments that I think are equal in greatness, if we are defining greatness in the sense of the accomplishment's positive impact and magnitude. Each accomplishment made it possible for me to move forward in my life. The first was quitting drinking when I was 23. I had an uncle who was an alcoholic and took his own life in his 50s, and while my circumstances weren't as dire as his, I knew I was exhibiting the same behaviors and that I was someone who shouldn't drink. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and that drinking was getting in the way, so I took steps to take drinking out of my life. The second was tirelessly adhering to my dream of being an editorial professional and moving to New York, a move I wouldn't have been able to do without my ex-partner. The move, and the steps and connections I made before and after it, got me to the position I'm in now, and I never wavered from knowing that I could do it. And the third is ultimately separating from that same partner, which is sad, but an accomplishment nonetheless. I got to a point where I had to be honest with myself that even though we'd been together for nearly 7 years, we weren't happy and weren't right for each other, and the best thing for both of us was to end our relationship. Again, it feels odd to mark this as an accomplishment, but breaking up with someone after that long of a period is a very hard thing to do, and out of everything I've done in my life, I think it was the most grown-up decision I've ever made.
Who inspires you in the industry?
The editors I've worked with. I don't want to downplay my own efforts to advance my career, but I've been incredibly fortunate to have come across editors and fellow writers who've served as mentors for me. As far as I'm concerned, Ed Gonzalez, my former editor at Slant, is one of the finest and smartest film writers in the business, as is Keith Uhlich, one of my very dear friends and a former staff critic for Time Out New York. Aaron Hicklin, my current boss and the editor in chief of OUT, is a joy of a man who's such a wonderfully multifaceted professional. He has a boyish spirit but an old soul, an ear for rich stories but also a rebellious streak that keeps our content exciting. He has a discerning eye but also a great openness to ideas. He can find a great writer for a piece or, unlike many EICs in the biz, roll up his sleeves and write a cover story himself. Like all my editors, it almost feels weird calling him my boss. He's my friend.
What aspects of your job do you like best/least?
The part I like best is that it allows me to do what I've done for 9 years--cover film, arts, and entertainment--while also allowing me to be part of a publication that is inherently responsible in that it speaks for and speaks to a community that continues to need as much advocacy and visibility as possible. The work we do is very fun, but also sociopolitically responsible, and that's something that, right around the time I got this job, was essential for me in my profession. It's great that I've had the opportunities to write about movies and interview celebrities, but eventually there needs to be something greater behind that if you want your work to continue to enrich your life. As for what I like least, I think if you had asked me that question shortly after I got the job, I would have said the managing people aspect, since it is challenging and can cause certain tensions. But that responsibility has generated its own rewards, since I've seen what strong communication can yield, so that's very much become a positive. Ironically enough, as a person who works in a field that's built on the written word, I think what I sometimes like least is the actual writing! Or, more specifically, the starting of the writing. All the planning and curating that goes into making an issue is invigorating, as are the steps that lead to the articles you create, but there's something about that dreaded blank page that I think nags at every writer. It's so strange: I love to write, but the further I've gotten in my career, the very foundation of it can sometimes be the monkey on my back.
Who do you consider to be some of the quintessential heroes for the LGBT community?
Oh god. Tony Kushner. Peter Staley. Larry Kramer. Oscar Wilde. Leonardo Da Vinci. Ellen Degeneres. Andy Warhol. Terrence Davies. James Baldwin. Anthony Romero. Chad Griffin. Laverne Cox. RuPaul. That's off the top of my head. I don't even want to think about who I didn't mention.
Describe your style in terms of fashion:
Ha! Boring! No. I'll say classic. I like to have fun and wear adventurous things sometimes, but the truth is I always look best in classic staples, button-ups, formal wear, and dark colors. I wear A LOT of black. My three favorite pieces of clothing are my black winter trench coat, my tight black jeans from Topman, and my black zip-up boots.
What makes you happy?
Music. Kissing. Peanut Butter. Coffee. Dancing. Seeing a new issue arrive in the office. Being paid to speak to people whose lives and work I admire. My cat. My dog. My closest girlfriends. Texting my best friend until my battery dies. Being told by my boss that I'm important. Kind and unsolicited emails from my father. Walking through New York. Meeting new people. Fall. Spring. Public art. Getting my hair cut. Seeing films that change the way I look at the world afterward. People who strive to change the way I and others look at the world.
What brings you the greatest satisfaction?
I'd say a very balanced week, wherein I know I've made great progress at work, helped to create and hopefully written something I know will be enriching and of value, interacted with friends and colleagues on levels that go beyond small talk, eaten something delicious, seen something inspiring, maybe encountered something a little sad and challenging, and also still made time to go out on the weekend and dance.
What is your favorite song at the moment, and of all time?
My favorite song of the moment os "Blow" by Dawn Richard. My favorite song of all time is "Freedom" by George Michael.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
That intelligence is something that should never, ever be ridiculed or considered in any way "uncool."
What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Candy bars and Instagram. I think I pretty much crave both all the time.
Describe yourself in 5 words:
Sensitive, Fair, Open, Selfish, Passionate
Which living person do you admire most?
Oh god, can I say Oprah? Oprah. I mean, who else? I've met her, and I'll gladly brag about it. We hugged. And she's the same person she is on TV. She's Oprah. She has a fundamental understanding of humanity that's transcendent. She knows that deep down, every person wants to know he or she is being heard. She's done more in her life for every single type of person than most people ever will, and I don't think that because she's a celebrity she's any less deserving of that mantle. There's power in celebrity, more so than in a lot of our policy makers, and she can shift the culture in hugely positive ways.
What do you most value in people?
A general lack of prejudice.
Name 2 things people don't know about you:
I have a birthmark on my earlobe that makes it look like it was colored in purple Sharpie. I was almost expelled from high school for playing with a fire extinguisher.
What is your motto?
Lately it's just "Be open." I've embraced a newfound openness to new people and new experiences and I strongly suggest that others do the same. You'd be amazed at what you can gain from the world if you open yourself up to it and don't limit yourself.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Still in New York! Haha. I hope to still be on a path I've worked very hard to forge, and continue to be a better me, professionally and otherwise. I hope I'll have learned my trade even better and shed more of my shortcomings, so I can be closer to the type of man my current boss is, who can use his wisdom and talents to hold a top-level position with sophistication, verve, and exquisite taste. And I hope to be in love again.
Any advice for those wanting to break into the editorial world?
If you know in your gut that you have what it takes to do what you love, don't let anyone try to dissuade you from doing it. If you know what you're capable of, no one has the right to tell you otherwise. And make connections in the business. Make friends with writers and editors. Meet everyone you can. Build a web of contacts and acquaintances and never stop adding to it.
Any last words?
Yes: Thank you, Luc.