One Year

This is the weekend edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing

A year ago I quit my job and started writing this newsletter full-time. As I wrote then, part of my motivation was an eagerness to write and publish the sort of things I was unable to write and publish elsewhere — like 4500-word Q&As about Fixer Upper, or a three-part, detailed dive into Master’s programs. I wanted to periodically be able to wake up, feel a cultural current shifting, and write about it immediately, and ask long, meandering questions of scholars whose work I admired and give them space to respond with long, meandering answers. I wanted to lean into complication, instead of flattening it, and I didn’t want every headline to be “Why [INSERT PHENOMENON HERE] Matters” because I wanted to write with the presumption that of course [INSERT PHENOMENON] matters.

I didn’t know if it would work — or at the very least, if it would work well enough, if readers would be on-board enough — to make it my full-time job. I didn’t want to make the content only available to people who were able to pay, so I made the decision to make pretty much all content available to everyone, and ask people who were able to pay to do so simply because they value the work. If people couldn’t afford a subscription, for whatever reason, they could just email and ask. I still can’t believe this works, but it does, and it works because of you.

You made the subscriber threads the highlight of my week. You shared your stories of grief and place and weird neighbors. You asked and sought advice, and reliably suggest at least 500 new books every month. You turned the Discord server into a curious and lovely and endlessly introspective place — where people read each other’s resumes and crowdfund an emergency roof repair and commiserate and celebrate with not-so-strangers on the internet. You sent me tips, and interviewed your kids about their video games, and suggested and then set the agenda for the money advice column. You made it possible for me to pay above-market rates to guest writers, and to comp subscriptions to over 400 people who could not otherwise afford them. You made the comments section a place where you might actually want to hang out again. Whether you’re the first person in the Tuesday thread or just open the email once a week and sit with it, you have made all of this feel like community.

And that, to me, is the blessing of this year’s work — and hopefully of years to come. I don’t feel like a leader so much as a facilitator — of the community itself, but also of these larger conversations about who we are and what we want, whether personally or collectively, for our future.

I don’t have any grand plans for expansion. I just want to keep pushing myself in non-burnout ways to write weird and addictive and empathetic things, to publish other thinkers who challenge and texture my understanding of the world, to come up with goofier and even more sincere thread ideas, to keep doing the hard work of community-building. As always, my inbox is open for suggestions, and subscribers can always come join the real-time conversation on Discord.

Depending on when you subscribed, some of you with yearly subscriptions will get a notification of renewal soon. If you’re no longer in the place to pay, you can email me and we’ll figure it out, no questions asked. There’s no shame. If you can afford to pay, you help make that scenario possible. And if you need a reminder of what you’ve supported over the past year, I’ll put a quick greatest hits below.

This has been the weirdest, grief-filled year. It has also been the most invigorating of my professional life. You all help me see the stars as constellations, to continue to seek meaning and narrative amidst that vast, swallowing unknown. This is all very corny, but sincerity and softness are guiding principles of this community, and I won’t apologize. I am so grateful to be doing this work with you.

How Did This All Happen In One Year:

If you read this newsletter and value it, consider going to the paid version. From here on out, the weekly “Things I Read and Loved,” including the “Just Trust Me,” only go out to Paid Subscribers.

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