My name is Bianca Betancourt, I’m 23 and I’m an Afrolatina, Chicago based writer, editor and curator.
How was life growing up?
I had a very stereotypical, suburban upbringing. I was born in Virginia, right outside of D.C and lived there until I was 7. From then on, I grew up in Arizona and lived there until I left for college in Chicago in 2012. I would say the only difficult part of growing up was being so different physically and racially from my friends and peers. My family almost always lived in conservative towns so my identity was always being assumed—people either thought I was Black and White or Mexican or anything other than what I actually was—(Black and Puerto Rican). My experiences with my family and friends growing up really shaped the work and writing that I do now—I’m all about understanding our inner selves, thoughts and individuality.
When did you begin to witness you had creative talents?
I was writing stories the minute I learned how to write and string words together. I wrote my first “book” (basically a very long, very poorly edited manuscript about a girl based very closely modeled after me falling in love with a British pop star) when I was in 7th grade. I also really loved fashion early on and used to draw and design clothes even though I never knew how to sew. I was really lucky that my family always encouraged art as education and my mother and my aunts always took me to different museums, exhibits and libraries and bought me art books that constantly inspired me. Writing was always the “talent” that people mentioned to me though—I remember in second grade, my teacher signed my yearbook and told me to send her a copy of my first book when it’s published. My English teacher my junior year of high school told my mother on one portfolio night that if I didn’t end up doing writing as my career, she didn’t know what I would end up being. That was probably the comment that really made me realize I should seriously pursue it.
When did you begin to start taking writing seriously?
I wanted to be a million things growing up—a painter, a fashion designer, a veterinarian—but writing was always something that came back to me. I really credit my teachers in high school for always pushing me to be a stronger writer but also reminding me that my capabilities as one was a power that not everyone else had. Getting ready for my freshman year of college and experiencing my first journalism classes was when I really buckled down and tried to figure out how I could turn writing into my career.
What was your first published piece?
My first published piece was a tiny, little event recap in SPLASH Magazine back when it was just an insert in the Chicago Sun-Times. I was 18 and published in a top 10 U.S newspaper and I’ll never forget that feeling of accomplishment. By that same time next year I was published in The Huffington Post and Washington Post and later went on to write pieces for Remezcla, Teen Vogue and my first international byline this year—BRICK Magazine.
You talked about how you were a magazine lover. What were some of your favorite magazines growing up?
I used to get a stack of magazines a foot high in my mailbox every month as a teenager. I loved reading Seventeen, CosmoGirl, Teen Vogue, NYLON, Rolling Stone. My mother also always had a subscription to W and I remember always being mesmerized by their covers and editorials. The only mainstream magazines I still read and buy are probably W and NYLON and Teen Vogue. I’m really adamant about supporting independent publications now since I run my own—I love Cherry Bombe, CR Fashion Book, The Isis Nicole Magazine, V, POP and more.
How did CIRCUS Magazine come about?
As I grew older I realized how little content mainstream media magazines were actually serving their readers and the lack of magazines for specifically a millennial audience. I learned a lot about the publishing industry and website upkeep through my internship at SPLASH so by the end of my time there I had already put together the original CIRCUS website. I met so many different types of creatives my freshman year of college that I literally just reached out to a bunch of different artists (designers, illustrators, writers, photographers) and together we put together content for the launch. I don’t work with the original team now—I do almost all of the curating and editing for the site myself—but still work with dozens of different creatives to put together the stories we publish online and in print.
For three years CIRCUS had been a digital publication. Throughout those years, you had always wanted to create a physical, print issue. With CIRCUS Issue 001, you were able to do that. Talk about Issue 001.
I had a phone call with my creative director at the time (who still helps and advises with big projects the magazine and CIRCUS brand takes on) and when I mentioned wanting to do a print issue he was really against it. All his reasoning was fair—we weren’t organized enough as a working publication, we didn’t have the funding, we didn’t even really have the time. But I knew in my soul I wouldn’t be happy with this brand I had built without seeing it come to life as a physical publication. I put together the entire issue—90 pages, front to back—by myself. I wrote all but four stories, commissioned every photo, looked over every spread with the designer. It was actually like birthing a child—and just as expensive. But worth every sleepless night, every stress, every dollar. The response when people see the magazine is “Wow, this is actually a magazine.” Yeah, what did you guys expect? Ha.
You recently just opened up your own Studio..
Almost a year ago I was in a really weird but necessary transitional period of my life—I really wanted to do writing and editing full time but while places in Los Angeles and New York fucked with my work, no one would give me an interview for a job unless I lived in those cities. Mainstream Chicago media companies only hire safe writers. I felt stuck and really felt that I needed to move in order to get my career going. I was dead set on moving and made plans to go to LA in the spring. One evening, someone close to me told me that I was talented enough to succeed anywhere but that I shouldn’t give up on Chicago just yet—I needed to push through just a little bit more with the magazine. I took that comment very seriously and after a lot of soul searching asked myself what I could do—regardless of location—that would put me in a happier place career wise. That was when the idea for CIRCUS Studio came about.
The studio came alive from start to finish in a little over six months—and is a physical place where my collaborators and I can work on the magazine, do photo shoots, have creative meetings, events—everything we always struggled with completing without having an actual space to do so. We also sell and promote the work of all the artists and creatives we’ve worked with in the past—from painters, illustrators, fashion designers and everything in between. The response to the studio has been amazing so far and I still pinch myself everyday that I was able to make it come alive—all I had to make the space happen was a small personal loan from a friend who believed in me and half of that went to securing the security deposit for the studio. It was essentially built on nothing but the fact it came together is astounding and I’m really grateful.
Over the years what written piece of yours has meant the most to you?
I wrote a piece for the magazine years back called “To My Future Daughter” and I’ll never forget the night I wrote it. It was birthed from some pointless drama with my high school/early college boyfriend and I typed and typed while endless tears streamed down my face. I pressed publish at two in the morning and didn’t expect any sort of response—but I ended up being bombarded with comments from my loved ones, strangers, people who I thought didn’t even like me—about how much they related to the piece. Being honest and vulnerable with one’s emotions and then simultaneously putting those feelings out there—it’s not easy and it’s scary as hell. But still remembering the response I got from that piece solidified to me that sharing our vulnerable side is necessary and important in order for fellow women like me to know we’re not ever alone.
Who are some people you’re looking to interview?
If I’m not writing personal essays or cultural think pieces I love, love interviewing and profiling people. I love helping others tell their stories and interpret them through the written word. Dream interviews for me would be artists like Solange, Sofia Coppola, Kali Uchis—and Britney Spears. A random bunch.
When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
I would love to just be remembered as someone who was a voice for the underrepresented—for women, for Black women, for Latinas, for dreamers, the starving artist, the confused artist, the struggling artist—everything in between. What I do isn’t about me, but about the people I’m writing about.
Vol 001 Cover Photo: @Felton Kizer / Design: @Javier Suarez
Header Photo: @Jassie Uo
Pink Floral Photo: @Lyndon French
Three Girls Photo: @Bailey Renee