As founder and editor of The Runcible Spoon, a "food and fantasy" zine that's d e l i c i o u s l y analog, Malaka Gharib has been bringing national attention to the D.C. creative scene since 2010 – and she's done so while balancing a career about which she's equally passionate. Weekdays she works as a digital campaign strategist for (education activist Malala Yousafzai's charity) The Malala Fund; early mornings, late nights, and weekends she's at her kitchen table in Capitol Hill, putting together zine pages with her team, and sending out national calls for recipes, collages, illustrations, and stories related to whatever amazing theme The Runcible is currently working with (recent issues have revolved around all things "GROSS," "BLAND," and "CHEAP"). The fourteenth edition of Runcible is out soon, and we were glad to catch up with Malaka to chat all things career path, balancing passion projects with weekday responsibilities, and THE INTERNET:
I've had a zine since I was 14. It was called Sever and we had interviews with bands like !!! and LCD Soundsystem, and I think at one point I published Ice-T's phone number. Anyway, it inspired me to join the high school newspaper, then go on to journalism school, where I was an editor at the student music magazine.
After college, moving to DC as an intern, I felt naked without a magazine - so I started The Runcible Spoon. It was a way to make friends and find D.C.'s creative community. The first few issues were pretty tame - just recipes and restaurant reviews. But somewhere along the way things got really weird. And we kept going with the "food n' fantasy" theme we have today!
You guys have 13 issues! That's amazing. They're dense, too - I can only guess the number of contributors/collaborators you worked with so far. Any highlights (or dark days) that especially stand out? One of the major highlights happened over the last year, when Dazed and Confused recommended us in an article on their website. As a teen, I worshipped that magazine, and I think I made the 17-year-old Malaka proud. There was also that time that Matt Groening bought every issue of The Runcible Spoon at the LA Zinefest.
Figuring out our finances was really tough - and still is. Thankfully so many people in the creative community in DC were able to share great advice - you, Cathy from Treasury, the lovely ladies from Ginger Root, Paul Ruppert - about pricing, taxes, retailing, etc.
I'm the digital campaign strategist for education activist Malala Yousafzai's charity, Malala Fund. I come up with creative digital campaigns and content to champion Malala's work in girls' education. I knew I had to work for her after I heard her speech at the UN in 2013 - then saw her get the Nobel Peace Prize the very next year. I was like, DANG. This girl rocks!
The Runcible Spoon has taught me to think totally outside the box, and always go with the unconventional approach. The same person who brought you "Food Fantasies And How to Execute Them" and "Fun Recipes Using Disgusting Chinese Leftovers" also brought you "#DearSisters: Write a Message of Hope to the Kidnapped Chibok Schoolgirls" and "The Honesty Oscars: Honoring The Best in Global Anti-Corruption Activism." I'm all about mixing salty with sweet.
My day job has taught me that being creative is really hard work. To get the most out of it, you need discipline, resilience and not be precious about needing to own an idea. You also have to be a practical - can this idea work in real life? Do we have the money and resources for that?
The Runcible Spoon is a passion project – you've always balanced it with a full-time job, and not just a job, but a CAREER. Can you talk about that? I sometimes regret not doing more with The Runcible Spoon and exploring its full potential. When we were featured in a New York Times story in 2013, there was lots of media buzz around our zine, and a couple of agencies reached out to us about publishing a book. But things were just starting to pick up in my career, and in my gut I felt the timing wasn't right, so I let the moment pass.
Over the past few years, I've seen people shed their awesome day jobs in DC to transition over to their full time projects, and I get jealous and think about my missed opportunity. But then I think about how much I love my career. I've gotten to work at some really cool places - Al Jazeera, ONE and now the Malala Fund, and I get to do work on issues I believe in and causes that benefit the greater good. I also get to use my strongest skill sets: writing, editing, being creative and working with visuals. I can't give up one for the other, so I make both work. To swing The Runcible Spoon, sometimes I work weeknights and mornings and weekends - but it never feels like work!
"I think that's what has kept The Runcible Spoon running for so long - our team has a specific way we put issues together, and we have high standards for our fake recipes and zany stories."
You've done an amazing job of drawing national attention to the DC creative scene. Runcible has been featured all over the place. What's your perspective on national perception of creativity in D.C.? When we first did zinefests in Brooklyn, people would always say, "D.C.!?" like they couldn't believe such a weird magazine could be born from a town full of Ann Taylor and Jos A Bank-clad conservatives. But that reaction doesn't happen as much these days. Restaurants like Little Serow and Rose's Luxury and Toki Underground, which have gotten critical acclaim from national media, have helped show the rest of the country that subculture exists here.
There's a reason why people come to DC and not New York. They are - as The Magnetic Fields describes it - "doing something real." But that doesn't mean all these economists, journalists, policymakers aren't creative. I know that from the people who pitch to The Runcible Spoon. I'm always like DANG thanks lawyer-who-works-for-the-White-House for drawing this amazing recipe for black magic-flavored ice cream!
The "Internet" Issue is out soon! Oh man, you're in for a treat. We hosted the first US mukbang, led by journalist Alica Forneret - and she'll be sharing her experience in a feature story for the zine. Jon Chonko of Scanwiches created a sandwich out of internet food trends. Other things: pierogi emoji, Yelp reviews of 1-star restaurants, static images of food gifs.
Who or what should more people in D.C. know about? Change your mindset about what a creative person "looks like" in DC. You pass by dozens of creative people every day but they're not covered in tattoos or wear cool glasses. I myself am one of those "Ann Taylor-clad conservatives" and you wouldn't know I am into kpop or the LA punk band X. [And] get yourself to Annandale, there's lots of fun to be had there, from the kawaii stationery shop Lil Thingumajigs to the delicious patbingsu at Shilla Bakery.
Image credits, etc second slideshow: at Brooklyn Zine Fest. Photo credit: Steve McFarland/ Brooklyn Zine Fest > Our friend Maud with her zine, Marmalade Umlaut, and our zine, too. Photo credit: Chuck Kuan > Zines. Photo credit Judy Gu > a favorite spread, photo credit Gannet and Parrot.