Sooner or later Shadine Ménard had to be part of something big—creatively-speaking. She grew up as the daughter of legendary novelist Evelyne Trouillot. Her uncle was the late and noted intellectual and anthropologist Michel Rolph-Trouillot. As a little girl, she wrote brilliant essays and poems. Evelyne Trouillot still holds on to memories of her daughter’s first literary opus. Says the novelist: “Shadine’s first poem [was] about the things she loves. She did not even knew how to form letters properly but the images and the beauty of the words were already there. I had it framed, the frame is probably broken, the paper all stained and torn, but I must still have the poem somewhere.”
Ménard’s sister Nadève Ménard knew she saw a little creative genius in the bud. “Shadine definitely expressed herself through writing from an early age,” she attests. “I can’t say that I knew she’d be drawn to the magazine business or publishing, but it was clear that she was passionate about many topics, especially Haiti, her family, music, and fashion.” In high school, Ménard wrote for the school’s newspaper, and teachers were constantly praising her creative writing skills. During her college years at Drexel University in Philly, professors were immensely impressed by Ménard’s gifts for the written word, and agreed that she should put her abundant gifts to professional use.
And then there was Ménard’s avid consuming of fashion and beauty magazines. Throughout her life, she loved leafing through the pages of Essence, Vogue, Glamour, Amina, and Vibe, and eventually got an editorial position at the latter magazine, as well as its sister publication Vibe Vixen. Becoming an integral part of the magazine world, and noticing the different niche publications that were tailored for particular groups by the industry made Ménard wonder why there wasn’t one for someone like her. Someone like her, as in a Haitian-American who was attuned to both cultures, one who had an innate need to stay close to her culture, but who was also interested in keeping in touch with the American side too, and beyond.
In 2008, after much planning, Ménard launched Haitian International Pulse magazine, abbreviated as HIP. The print publication was enthusiastically welcomed by the audience that it was intended for. “I will say that I am not at all surprised when Shadine decided to follow her creative instincts,” says Trouillot of her daughter. “Although it is a difficult path, I am glad and proud that she decided to pursue her dreams. I think for most parents the most important thing is to see our children happy while following their dreams.” A long-time beauty aficionado, Ménard didn’t just write articles on color palettes and hem lines. The Fashion Institute of Technology graduate also explored issues like the sugar cane field workers in the Dominican Republic, and wrote extensively about Haitian music, cinema, art, and social issues—all from a Haitian-American perspective. “Shadine has a lot to offer because of her sensitivity” observes Trouillot, “her artistic talents and her ability to write and express her thoughts. Her magazine online HIP lets her be herself.”
These days, the publication is done in online format. But don’t think that its readers love it any less. For longtime HIP devoted readers like Mia Lopez, Ménard’s work doesn’t go unappreciated. “HIP stands out because it talks about a a variety of things,” affirms Lopez. “From health to beauty, from music to entrepreneurs, HIP introduces a host of things to its readers. The blogs are personal, the interviews are in depth, the comments after a release also keeps you interested.” But more than the articles, is the community within HIP itself. Lopez adds: “The typical Haitian website nowadays doesn’t focus on much more than gossip, it may have an article here and there but the main focus is always hearsay and gossip. HIP distinguishes [itself] from them from keeping it real but in a high standard.”
Besides being a magazine mogul, Ménard is an ardent champion of Haitian causes. Following the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, she was on the scene, on the grounds distributing much needed clothes and supplies to those in need.
Between working tirelessly on HIP—to keep it within the standards its devotees have come to expect, and balancing her life—Ménard agreed to answer some questions about her work.
Q & A
What is a typical day like for you as the creator of HIP?
Usually, I am up all night either writing or working at a Brooklyn bar. The nights I work, I get home between 4 and 5 A.M. I usually eat breakfast, catch up on emails then relax a bit before starting my morning workout. I usually end my workout by 9 P.M. the latest, shower and sleep before getting up to write, interview then continue on with my errands before heading back to work. On my days off I try to relax, but am constantly inspired by things and people around me that give me new ideas for HIP, which is why I always have a small notebook and pen on me.
Anything in your background and experiences that was useful in starting and managing HIP?
My past editorial positions for Vibe, Vibe Vixen and iStyle Magazine gave me inside knowledge on the behind-the-scene workings of a publication—product requests, production schedules, transcribing, editing, readership. Additionally, I believe that all past experiences and positions help us in some way. My merchandising manager position in retail, internship at FUBU, interpreter/translation work for non-profits…they all left a mark and a lesson.
What were some obstacles that you came across in starting as well as in running HIP?
In the beginning, when I was printing the premiere issue, it was hard to get advertisers. Fortunately there were a few private businesses and a Haitian woman who loves supporting new Haitian ventures that were in my corner. When it comes to running the webzine, the hardest part is doing it all on my own. I have a problem delegating and trusting others to help with my baby, but that will have to change at some point. It is also hard getting people to understand how a legit editorial magazine—whether it is online or in print—is run. They are always trying to barter for publicity or trying to tell me how to write an article—tone I should use, what I should say, etc. It is true that sometimes readers give me great tips and ideas on new stories, but part of what makes HIP different and consistent with my vision is that it doesn’t mainly focus on konpa or the most popular people in Haitian culture and gossip. HIP is about marrying Haitian and international cultures and shedding light on intelligent, interesting, enlightening and entertaining content. I think it’s important to keep that balance and also to make sure HIP’s integrity is not compromised by accepting money for features. Also, if you want to have ads on HIP please pay, we don’t barter—exceptions are rare and made for super supporters and loved ones. I find it offensive that people have no problem saying: “I think your site is great and would love to advertise on there but I don’t want to pay”.
Are you influenced by anybody in particular?
My mother is my biggest influence. She decided earlier than most to quit her full-time stressful job in education and focus on her writing. Although she still teaches, she is now a successful writer and speaker. She is also a co-owner of an editing company that creates and contributes to publications for UNESCO and others. She is doing what she loves and making a living from it and loving it. The best thing about it is that it makes her happy and allows her to represent Haiti proudly.
Where do you see the magazine and publishing world heading?
I was sad to see such publications as Honey suffer from the downward spiral the magazine world went through a few years ago. Many niche publications could not and still cannot keep up with the print costs and demands in these hard times, yet they are needed by specific demographics. The publishing industry as a whole has been changing and not necessarily in a bad way. So many publications are now available in different formats and the challenges and competition has forced them to be more creative and tactical with content, such as the great changes implemented in Marie-Claire.
Any interview experience in your journalism career that especially stood out?
As an editorial assistant at Vibe I met and worked with Ciara, the model Jessica White and others, but I was in work mode and not fazed at all. Living and going out in NYC you meet so many people that it kind of seems normal. As far as interviewing, I just like getting into people’s heads and forget their title once I’m talking to them because you can’t get overwhelmed or star crazed and let that impact your work. In order to be professional and ask pointed questions, I have to stay unaffected. The only person I was in awe of and felt myself beaming every time she uttered one word was Gloria Steinem. ‘Til this day I kick myself for not bringing a camera with me to the A Long Walk Home fundraiser that she hosted at her home. Speaking to her was like a dream. She is such a wise and powerful and caring human being. And if anyone doesn’t know who she is they should Google her [Laughter].
What are your thoughts on the current state of all the sectors of Haitian entertainment, be it music, movies, or other?
Oh goodness, do I have to answer this question? [Laughter] I’m really liking some of the rap Kreyol now. I guess it’s because I feel they are bringing something new. As far as movies go, I’m still scarred by the few I’ve seen. There are a few very talented people in the Haitian movie industry, but as a whole we need to do better. As far as konpa goes, I still have old hits like Zenglen’s An Nou Alèz cd, many of ZIN’s old hits and K-Dans—from the era where the CaRiMi guys were still part of it. There is something timeless about the konpas I grew up listening to or maybe it’s nostalgia talking. [Laughter] I do love some of the current konpas, but I get tired of listening to the same songs for over a year. I’d love it if production was sped up more.
Curious to know what your favorite all-time books, music pieces and movies are!
There are way too many to list. My favorite book of all time is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Other books that I can read over and over again and still get completely immersed in them are: La Gloire de Mon Père (Marcel Pagnol), Le Château de ma Mère (Marcel Pagnol), Diary of Anne Frank, Little Women (Louisa M. Alcott), Rosalie L’Infâme (Evelyne Trouillot) and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (Ntozake Shange). I am so sappy when it comes to movies. I can watch Dirty Dancing, Pretty Woman, Beaches, Pretty in Pink, Sleepless in Seattle over and over again. But my true pleasure when it comes to film is watching old movies on the Turner Classic Movie network: The Philadelphia Story, Some Like It Hot, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, Grand Hotel, Strangers on a Train, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, The Sound of Music and many more. As far as music, I listen to anything really. I don’t discriminate; if it sounds good to me I’m downloading it.
Readers and subscribers who have been with HIP from the very beginning are still hoping to get it in print again.
I actually love print magazines. I feel like there is no substitute for the feeling of holding a print magazine, flipping through it and going back to it during train rides, salon visits and bedtime readings. So I miss having HIP in print as well; unfortunately there’s no way I could financially afford to continue the print edition. I have been thinking of printing one special annual issue every year though. Just a thank you to the readers and a keepsake that they can have always each May to commemorate the first time it was printed.
It’s been said that every magazine editor has a novel lying around in their drawers. Is that the case with you?
Haha. I have to laugh at this question because many people ask me this as soon as they learn I’m a writer and are always perplexed when I assure them that I’ve never had plans to write a novel. Some, my mother in particular, think that I should. But it’s just a step I don’t feel I can take yet. Aside from editorials, writing has always been cathartic for me. I’ve just now started sharing my poetry publicly and feel that any novel would have so many huge chunks of my reality that I’m not ready to share that much of myself yet.