Nicholas T. Joyner has a knack for details. He speaks about twice as fast as anyone else and floods his sentences with exact notes on everything — and everyone — he’s encountered. He’ll stumble occasionally on the name of a professor, director or angsty Street hater, but before you have the chance to pull up Google, he’ll snap his fingers and grab the name right off the tip of his tongue.
Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard. Nick spent last year as the editor–in–chief of this magazine, capping off a long career as writer and editor. When the Cinema Studies / Communications major wasn’t line–editing features or pinpointing cover art, he was cloistered somewhere dissecting films and soaking in media theory. And yet, if you spend enough time with this 6–foot–5 gazelle of a human being, it’s clear that he’s had a keen eye long before Penn. As a 16–year–old in San Antonio, TX, Nick interned for a summer at the San Antonio Current, an alt–news weekly that sat opposite his high school. One of his first pieces, a review of the film Boyhood (2014), shimmers with the same careful precision that characterizes his writing at Street. In a line that is both observant of the film and demonstrative of Nick’s tendency to catch onto detail, he notes: “It's the small things strung together that give the film its power.”
Five years and numerous, detail–laden film reviews later, Nick and I sit down at Metro to reflect. The Thouron Scholar talks about his favorite movies, his time as the HBIC of Street and the mysticism of his home state, Texas.
Name: Nick Joyner
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Majors: Communication and Cinema Studies
Activities: 34th Street Magazine, Philomathean Society, LGBT Center, Kinoki Senior Society, Friars Senior Society
Rebecca Tan: You’ve written before about the moment you picked up a copy of Street and decided to go to a writer’s meeting. Let’s go back to that moment—what drew you to the magazine?
Nick Joyner: It’s funny because I wrote about Street in my college application. At the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do academically, so I made it a lot about extracurriculars. I wrote about working at the LGBT center, I wrote about wanting to be in Philo and I wrote about Street, all of which I wound up doing.
After I was admitted to Penn, my mom and I visited campus. It was a Thursday, which is when Street used to run. I picked up a copy, and remember feeling both interested and jarred… I registered that this was the outlet for feature writing, and I liked that they were writing film reviews, but I was also a little put off by some of the “et cetera” sections like highbrow and lowbrow.
RT: Interesting. So how do we go from that point to eventually running for EIC?
NJ: Freshman fall, I came to almost every writer’s meeting. The entertainment editor at the time didn’t have that many stories for us, but I remember being really persistent and emailing her, “Hey, have anything for me?”
Freshman spring, I became a Film & TV beat writer, which was amazing, because I got put on all the press emailing lists. In January, we got an email to cover a new Jesse Owens movie, Race (2016). The press people flew me to Los Angeles and I stayed at a hotel in Beverly Hills — it seemed like a scam! The movie was terrible but it was a really fun experience.
Later, I became Features editor, which was when I got serious about the EIC role. I saw the former Editor-in-Chief, Orly Greenberg, make strides that I really agreed with, like cutting shoutouts and the Round Up, which helped me see the role as an opportunity to change the parts of Street that used to make me uncomfortable, or at least nudge it in that direction. I also wanted to take on a meaningful leadership experience. I had assumed exec roles in other clubs before, but with the DP, I saw the opportunity to take on something more involved, more in-depth and more lasting. There are very few opportunities at Penn for getting as involved in a club as Street, The DP or UTB. That’s an immersive experience; it’s like having a child.
RT: We’ve shared a lot of late nights together. Is there a memory from your time on board that sticks out?
NJ: I think the sum of feedback that I’ve gotten from all portions of campus is the thing that sticks with me. We can always talk about how we cut sections, increased our output and drove pageviews, which are things to be proud of, but looking back, what sticks out is that feeling of being on the verge of tears when you’re getting those mean emails. It was also the compliments though. When people said they thought the magazine was moving in the direction they liked, or even if they said they liked one particular article — that was always incredible to hear.
RT: That’s a perfect segue to my next question. One of the unique things about working at a publication is that all your readers and in this case, all the people you go to school with, start to associate you with this larger brand. Did you ever have trouble delineating your personal life from your Street life?
NJ: Oh yes. I mean knew it before I took the job, but you don’t really know it until you’ve done it. First semester, when people insulted the publication, it felt like an attack on me. When you’re just elected editor, you like to think you’re implementing sweeping change, but then you realize a lot of the work is visible to people on our side, but not to our readers or the wider Penn population. What hurt me was working everyday to improve the publication, and having people just be like, “Here comes 34th Street again, doing the same stuff that they’ve always done.” And I was like, “No! We’re trying to be better.” That was what got me, because for a while, you feel ineffectual.
RT: And how did you snap out of that?
NJ: Well, I’ve got a thick skin. And at some point, I just took on a “haters gonna hate” attitude, but a critical one. “Haters gonna hate” implies that there are always going to be detractors and you’re never going to change their mind, so like, fuck ‘em. I don’t agree with that. But at some point, I learned to accept that some people are going to hate me and the publication no matter what I do, and that others may never notice the changes in the magazine that my exec and I thought were important.
After five months on the job, I also started to see these emails — some were constructive, some were just personal attacks — in a different way. It’s like, okay, this hurts me because I care so much about the magazine, but maybe these people have a point. This isn’t about me; it’s an opportunity to improve the magazine.
RT: Let’s put Street aside for now. I think a lesser-known fact about you is that you’re incredibly accomplished academically (Nick will be the flag–bearer for the Cinema Studies department at graduation and was recently named a 2019 Dean’s Scholar. And oh, did we mention the Thouron?) Tell us a little about your academic life at Penn.
NJ: I came into Penn thinking I was going to do Political Science, but in freshman year, I took a seminar on science fiction cinema under Chris Donovan, which was a fantastic introductory class. It made me go, “wow, I can take classes about movies.” In freshman year, I also took Communications 123 with Dr. Litty Paxton, who has become a great academic mentor and friend of mine. The class was a lot about media theory, cultural studies, and did a good job of being a survey of a lot of critical approaches. Later, I took Tim Corrigan’s introductory class on world cinema, 1945 - present, which made me declare my major in cinema studies. Tim’s class placed a big emphasis on film history and critical theory, which I really enjoyed. He’s actually been my thesis advisor.
RT: Ooo, what’s your thesis about?
NJ: It’s called “Shoved in the Closet” and it’s about the important contributions of documentary cinema. It’s about how documentary movies about the AIDS crisis contributed to new queer cinema, which came about in the early 90s. I’m arguing that documentary, as a genre, had been overlooked in this lineage of LGBT cinema.
RT: That’s so dope. You’ve written before about how Penn doesn’t really have a culture that promotes intellectual growth, especially in the humanities. Was this something that bothered you while you were here?
NJ: Yeah, in my freshman and sophomore years, I definitely felt guilty about saying I was studying Communications and Cinema Studies because I felt like they weren’t considered useful. I remember telling myself in sophomore fall that I had to take Marketing classes and get some useful skills to put on my resume.
Penn, as an institution, prizes courses of study that give you hard skills or position you for an established career trajectory. The term “pre–professionalism” sounds so trite, but there is premium here placed on knowledge that you can convert into something marketable. So for a while, I was scared to do what I wanted. I felt guilty for studying things for things’ sake. It wasn’t till junior year where I was like, “fuck it, you’re going to be fine.” If you’re interested in what you’re studying and you study it well, you will be fine.
RT: That’s lovely. Okay, can we talk Texas? I know it’s a huge part of your identity, and you always talk about it with some sentimentality. What was it like coming from Texas to Penn?
NJ: Aw yes. I miss Texas so much; I didn’t appreciate Texas until I left it.
There was a real moment for me when I was writing my article on Boyhood. The film is about a boy exactly my age, living in San Marcos, which is close to San Antonio. I had been to every single place that appeared in the movie. My favorite movie ever is Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1990) because there’s something so purely Austin about it, something so Texas. Also, Paris, Texas (1984) and No Country for Old Men (2007). And then there are novelists like Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy who have written about Texas as a character, a setting and a place of its own. I’m really interested in all this cultural legacy, and I’d love to incorporate some of it into my work in the future.
For people in the northeast, Texas is a monolith, and the only place they want to visit is Austin for SXSW. But I have family across the state, so I’ve travelled all over. What always strikes me is how diverse it is. My favorite place is Big Bend National Park in West Texas. You can go to the pine forest, you can go to the plains, you can go down to the Rio Grande river. For vacations as a kid, my mom and I would just pick some place in Texas because it always feels like you’re somewhere else.
There’s something mystical about Texas. It is its own nation; there’s nowhere else in the country like it. This isn’t to romanticize it and say that it doesn’t have its own host of problems, but I do miss it.
Current song on replay: "Tia Tamera" by Rico Nasty and Doja Cat
First thing you’ll do when you get back to Texas: Eat some barbecue and tan
One thing I’ll miss about Penn: Being in close proximity to my friends. The density of people I love. We will never be all here again. It makes me sad.
Why do you love Twitter? I’m a very anxious person and I have lots of thoughts. I’m also a Leo so I love the spotlight and sharing said thoughts. (Ed. note: Get a taste of Nick’s farm memes at @2joynz; don’t be misled into following @nicktjoyner, which is his “big boy twitter.”)
There are two types of people at Penn: The ones who entertain and the ones who observe.