BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Molly Tolsky gets stuff done. She's an editor extraordinaire: She was a former editor at Kveller (a women's site focused on Jewish parenting) and is also currently the senior editor for No Tokens (a literary magazine). But now, she's started another lifestyle brand: Alma. The official site just launched today, which is, as the site says, "for ladies with chutzpah."
Instead of it just being a site women go to read fun, intelligent articles (and then click away, because that's how the internet is), it's really meant to be a community, a source of solidarity for women. And honestly, we all know women need more safe spaces.
Molly, who is also a writer herself (her fiction and nonfiction has been published in places like Modern Loss and Electric Literature), has already curated a vast range of content both necessary and fun: T Kira Madden's essay on loss titled "How to Honor the Dead," Hannah Fordin gave us a chicken broth recipe, there's an interview with burlesque dancer Fancy Feast, some Mary Kate & Ashley nostalgia, and an essay I wrote on moms and daughters called "My Mother Doesn't Speak to Me Anymore."
I was lucky to speak with Molly about Alma, what her favorite gif is, and what unpopular opinion she has:
What prompted you to start a new site for millennial Jewish women? I'm sure you saw a need for it. What's been the most challenging thing about starting a new brand?
I had been editing for Kveller, a Jewish parenting site, for nearly 7 years. I started as an intern before it launched and was able to play an integral role in shaping a new website and watching it take off into a robust, engaged community, which was truly incredible.
However, I'm not a parent myself, so while I loved working with so many amazing women and writers and helping to get their voices out there, I also wanted to work on something that felt personal to me and where I'm at in my life. I did some research and found that there was nothing out there specifically for Jewish women in this demographic. Writing teachers always tell you to write the book you want to read, so I decided to create the community I wanted to belong to.
It's super challenging to build something from scratch. There are plenty of logistical challenges, how do you build up an Instagram following; how do you convince people to buy into something that doesn't have any reputation yet, but for me, the most challenging part has been on the personal end. I went from doing a job I loved, one where I felt completely confident and knew exactly what I was doing every day, to plunging into this new, overwhelming, unknown task.
I definitely went through a moody transitional period when I started to doubt myself and my capacity to really do this, and wondered if I had made a huge mistake in stepping away from my comfort zone at Kveller. Luckily I've (mostly) gotten over that hump, but the challenges certainly keep coming.
When did you start writing? How do you deal with rejection?
As a little kid, I would always say I wanted to be an author when I grew up, so I suppose I must have been writing then, though I don't really remember because my memory has gone to shit. But it was senior year in high school when I really fell in love with books, when I started reading things that weren't just assigned to me in school, and the summer before college I started going to a Barnes & Noble in suburban Chicago and writing little stories in their cafe, which made me feel very cool.
It's funny, because rejection greatly bothers me in most areas of my life, but not when it comes to writing. I studied writing in college, and my professors did a really good job of driving the point home that if you want to be a writer, you're going to face a LOT of rejection. It's just part of the deal. I also think it helps to be on the other end as an editor, there are plenty of times when I read something that I think is wonderful, but just isn't write for the publication I'm working on, so I have to reject it. Everything can't be for everybody, so I try to remember that. And honestly, most literary magazines take so long to get back to you that when they finally do, even if it's just a form rejection, I'm thrilled.
What's the best part about being an editor/publisher? What's the worst?
Helping people tell their stories in the most effective way. There is nothing as satisfying as taking a piece that may be a bit of a mess in some respects but has a great kernel to it, maybe it's the voice, or the honesty, or the heart, and shining it up so that it really sings. I will say that editing can sometimes be a thankless job. There are some writers who do not take to it kindly, and I get it; it's their words and voice on the line. But behind most great pieces of writing is a great editor who not just moved around some commas but pushed that writer to be the best they could be. That often goes unrecognized. But it's cool. It's fine. No really.
What does feminism mean to you?
Listening to and championing marginalized voices. Relentlessly pointing out all the fucked up craziness that comes out of living in a patriarchal society. Believing women. Fighting for equal pay. Rolling your eyes when someone tells you, "Actually, men have it a lot harder on dating apps."
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
Give me one unpopular opinion you have.
I HATE SELTZER. IT TASTES BAD.
How would you describe your social media persona/role?
I think (and/or hope) my social media persona is not too different from my IRL persona. I try to keep it real, which typically means making fun of myself, admiring writers I love, and tweeting about snacks. I also happened to be a fantastically funny looking kid often found in elaborate costumes (I was a competitive figure skater) so I see a real important role in sharing my #tbts with the world.
What do you carry with you at all times?
A book. A pen. Several receipts I'm too lazy to throw away.
If Alma were a real person, how would you describe her?
Your friend who's pretty smart but also totally down with watching The Bachelorette un-ironically. She's obsessed with bagels and skeptical of smoothies with, like, grass in them. She connects to her Jewish identity mostly through humor and food and fond memories of her over-the-top bat mitzvah. OK wait I might just be describing myself. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Recommend a piece of writing you love.
"The Feels of Love," a personal essay by my dear friend and Alma contributor T Kira Madden, will absolutely gut you. I don't want to say too much because people need to just read it but damn damn damn. It's an excerpt from her book coming out in 2019, so you know, watch out.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.