Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM: Meet Britt
“Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM” is a series on The Adler ’Scope that highlights the awesome women of Chicago who are doing amazing things in science, technology, engineering, art, and math fields here in our own community. Meet women of varying ages, backgrounds, and interests and learn their unique stories.
Editorial Director at Cancer Wellness and Columnist at Chicago Tribune Media Group
What sparked your interest in becoming a writer? Did you always have a knack for it?
I always, always, always wanted to be a writer. Even when I was a child and had other passions and interests—from acting to music to anthropology to programming—writing was always part of the plan. I always intended to do multiple things, with writing being my constant. I grew up loving to read and began reading books by the age of three. My mother and I would go to the library multiple times per week and I became a reading tutor at one of my town’s local libraries at an early age. Words—reading them and using them—were second nature to me. My true interest in writing though began after reading Harriet the Spy. I began spying on my sister and parents, which they did not appreciate, but it got me into the habit of journaling. I’ve had a journal ever since.
Your work has been featured in numerous publications (ELLE, Esquire, The New York Times, The Guardian, Vice, Pitchfork, Glamour, Rolling Stone, etc.). Could you tell us about that first time that you had one of your writings featured in a major publication? What was that moment like for you?
Writing for Pitchfork was probably the first time I wrote for a relatively “mainstream” publication. Before then, I wrote multiple times per day on my blog, or I wrote for small, indie or art publications. Pitchfork’s former editor-in-chief found my writing through my blog and asked me to start writing singles reviews. I got to pitch tracks I enjoyed by then lesser known or completely unknown artists like Sam Smith, Sophie, and London Grammar. Honestly, I couldn’t believe any of it was happening. I felt like someone was playing a joke on me. I knew so many other people interested in music writing, and a part of me felt imposter syndrome, as if I skipped too many steps. It was hard to get out of that mindset. It still is.
You’ve also served as an interviewer for some pretty impressive guests, including Solange Knowles and Gabourey Sidibe. What’s your preparation process like for these interviews?
I always do extensive research on each person I interview. I read profiles, interviews, and other forms of media. If they wrote a book, I read the book and write questions and notes based on what I read, as if I was in one of my English literature classes (that was my major).
If they released an album, I’ll give it many spins to get a feel for the vibe, mood, and lyrical content of the album. I try to provide a mix of questions that would be of interest to a general audience and ones that I am personally interested in knowing. Some people request the questions ahead of time while others do not. I usually print a copy of the questions for myself or bring my kindle so they are near me, but I almost never read from the page. I just like to have them there, in case I get randomly stuck.
Can you tell us more about your weekly column Local Sounds with the Chicago Tribune?
I have written the Local Sounds column for more than 5 years, and the section recently expanded. I now write a feature profile or two, an album review, a show preview, or an essay every week. It is focused on local music, but not always. My purpose is to stay abreast of the local music, nightlife, and cultural scenes and write about them honestly and enthusiastically. I love it, and I’ve met some of the most talented, interesting artists imaginable!
What advice would you give to young girls of color who are interested in pursuing careers in STEAM?
Stay focused. You will inevitably encounter people who doubt you, who think you should pivot careers, who will aggressively challenge or question you. As women of color, this is just a fact of life for us. But what is most important is that you believe in yourself and your self-worth. Don’t ask for permission to do the things you want to do. People will often not give it to you. Seek out opportunities for yourself and develop your own path if people refuse to show you the way. Oftentimes, you’ll be rewarded for it in the end.