The Aesthete

Writing the Wave

Journalist, pop-culture fiend and feminist Dodai Stewart talks Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and her days at The Palladium

by Rebecca Carroll Photography Mike Vorrasi

Dodai Stewart, rising media star and deputy editor of the Gawker Media women’s site Jezebel, was not at all pleased when she first arrived in New York City as a precocious seven-year-old from Atlanta. Obsessed with the Eloise series of children’s books, Stewart had already assumed that, like Eloise, she would live in the Big Apple – specifically in the Plaza: “And then when we moved to New York and we didn't live in the Plaza, I was like, 'Are you fucking kidding me? We came all this way and we're gonna live in an apartment building?'”

Not to worry. With the same puckish aplomb as her beloved Eloise, Stewart quickly looked past this one nagging, if epic, detail and set about her business of conquering the city.

Today Stewart is perched on a barstool in a diner on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that she has chosen because “it’s kind of bright and happy inside,” not unlike Stewart herself. Doe-eyed and beautiful, she is the sort of gal who tosses her head back when she laughs and radiates an enviously easy, old school glamour. Unabashedly enamored with The Great Gatsby (“If champagne and jewelry are involved, I’m interested.”), she seems perhaps better suited to the lavishness of the ’20s. “I love the lush, vivid optimism in booms,” she says. “Austerity is a bummer.”

"I love the lush, vivid optimism in booms," she says. "Austerity is a bummer."

As a teenager, Stewart discovered the hazy optimism of the New York City club scene and found her utopia on the dance floor. “The Palladium, Limelight, Club USA, the Tunnel — that was our circuit. I fucking loved it,” she says, in a state of retro-euphoria. “I spent more time at the Tunnel, but I loved the Palladium. There's a gazillion nights that, I don’t even know what to tell you — I got lost in the bass on the dance floor.”

Around this time is when Stewart discovered her love of writing, media, overall fabulosity and avant-garde freaks (“My people!”). She received more than one honorable mention by New York magazine for her responses to the weekly’s back page contest challenging readers to come up with various one-liners, such as “the opening sentence of an insufferable memoir.” An early reader of PAPER magazine back “when it was actually printed on paper,” Stewart was also obsessed with the idiosyncratic oddity that was Andy Warhol and adored Patricia Field — not because she was a fan of Sex in the City, but because, “I was a fan of her,” says Stewart, who frequented Fields’ 8th Street shop, where “the drag queens shopped.”

She continues to delight in long-time Village Voice columnist Michael Musto and Taylor Meade, the poet and former lover of Andy Warhol: “He's old and gay and bitter and all his poems are about hand jobs. He's fabulous.” And even if today’s mainstream celebrity icons are perhaps less artsy than Warhol, and not nearly as erudite as Taylor Meade, Stewart is not a snob about who she will discuss in terms of celebrity analysis.

Stewart isn’t mad at the perhaps questionable feminist role model Nicki Minaj for countering what she calls the “Taylor Swift-ization of America."

It’s Stewart’s highbrow-lowbrow sensibility, viral intuition — with traffic-driving posts on subjects ranging from male porn stars to race and racism — and super smart, un-precious writing style that have helped make Jezebel a standout among the broad bunch of recent lady sites to crop up and boast a slightly interpretive feminist bent. Stewart says she has always considered herself a feminist — “It's like, ‘Do you believe in equality?’ Um, yes, of course, who would even consider the alternative?” — but never felt like she had to label herself one until she started working at Jezebel, a women's online magazine that deals with politicized women's issues, where “it comes up on a daily basis.”

And while not exactly a fan, Stewart isn’t mad at the perhaps questionable feminist role model Nicki Minaj has for countering what she calls the “Taylor Swift-ization of America.” ”When I was growing up, it was Prince and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper talking about masturbation,” says Stewart. “I was reading the lyrics to ‘Darling Nikki’ and freaking out, but I loved it. So now, I'm like, don't give me all this wholesome shit.”

As we are chatting, the bartender interrupts us to swoon over Stewart’s shiny brass knuckle iPhone case. It is terrifically eye-catching and a bit flashy, but not in an ostentatious way. She bought it after seeing the pop singer Rihanna with one: “I saw it and [thought], ‘I have to have that,’” she says, almost purring with a joy and levity that makes me long for the roaring ’20s.