This, Sir, Is My Case! Rembert Browne ’09 takes his talents to Grantland.com
By Jack Barrett, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, April 16, 2012
The first time I spoke to Rembert Browne ’09 was on the phone. I was taking a walk on the first legitimately pleasant day of spring across the Green and around Baker, a respite from the raucous atmosphere of the men’s tennis match (a huge 4-3 win over Princeton University) being played on the Topliff Courts, and he was standing in the middle of an empty field in Indio, Calif. I was enjoying a leisurely Saturday, the third of my senior spring, while trying to fend off the impending doom of graduation and the real word for as long as possible. But not Browne — he was busy working, covering the multi-genre music festival Coachella as a writer for the increasingly popular sports and pop culture website Grantland.com.
“A lot of people working here are staying in hotels and stuff, but I just decided to do the camping thing,” Browne explained.
That’s when I thought to myself, Rembert Browne has a pretty cool job.
I should clarify what I said before — that wasn’t the first time I spoke to Browne. He was actually one of the first people I met (and probably one of the first other seniors did, too) when I came to Hanover for Dartmouth Outing Clubs First-Year Trips freshman year. And though he no longer rocks the rainbow hair, Browne’s face is still synonymous with H-Croo for many members of the Class of 2012. Four years later, I immediately recognized that face alongside his byline after his first piece as a staff writer for Grantland.
“When I think of Dartmouth, I don’t think of academics,” Browne said. “Being a trippee freshman year, being on H-Croo sophomore year, leading a trip junior year and then being on H-Croo again senior year were probably the most important things about school, just because it was out of my first 18-year comfort zone. Being out in the woods and being from the city, I had never camped or any of that stuff before.”
And now he’s going camping for a living.
Browne hails from Atlanta and now resides in New York City (via Hanover). It’s always nice to see Dartmouth alumni succeed in the public spotlight, but particularly endearing with someone like Browne, whose gregarious, outgoing personality seems to make quirky cool.
“Outside of my home, Dartmouth is my favorite place in the world,” Browne said.
His Dartmouth experience was particularly influential in helping find him his voice and style as a writer. Browne said that his first official foray into writing was through party emails for his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. As a junior, he made it more legitimate,when a friend asked him if he would consider writing a column for The Mirror, even though he’d never written anything for the public before.
“Writing for The D ended up being a completely weird thing that I didn’t expect to do that ended up becoming the other really important thing I did at college,” Browne explained. “Once I started writing, it became this really awesome thing where I had one thing to do every Friday, and I would always turn it in Thursday night because I was a jerk.”
Although he might have chafed his editors — a sentiment I can guiltily share — Browne was surprised by the campus reaction to his column. He would frequently receive emails from people he didn’t even know complimenting him on his work, a sentiment that I cannot guiltily share.
“I started to realize it was something I was kind of good at, because I would get some blitzes from like a lady that worked in the library or one of my professors saying, ‘I really liked that thing you wrote,’” Browne said.
On one occasion, the day after writing an article likening Susan Wright to Michelle Obama because of how well they both dressed, he found an email in his inbox the next day from the former first lady of Dartmouth herself, saying how funny she thought his article was.
On a post-graduation cross-country road trip, Browne found out that Time Out New York had decided to turn his job into a unpaid internship. Confirming his suspicions about how sustainable writing could be as a career, he chose instead to go back to school, enrolling at Columbia University to get a master’s degree in urban planning.
“That’s when writing became a hobby again,” Browne said.
During his stint at Columbia, Browne started a blog, called 500 Days Asunder, with a simple mission: one post a day until he finished graduate school.
“I started the blog because I still really wanted to write — I felt that I had a lot to say and the majority of stuff I was saying was in Facebook posts or tweeting,” Browne said. “Grad school was sucking a lot of the creativity out of me. While my grades were doing well, I was sort of hating my life. I wasn’t giving myself any other outlets to be creative.”
For someone as charming and affable as Browne, he really doesn’t do anything to overtly attract attention to himself. In fact, it’s the sort of thing he despises. Accordingly, his approach to his blog and other social media was much like the way he wrote his column for The Mirror. He initially promoted it to only a select group of his friends, or as he likes to put it, “peoples” opinions I respected.” But his intent from the beginning was clear — it wasn’t going to be something he urged other people to read.
“I told them, ‘Don’t expect me to be hitting y’all up to read it,’” Browne said. “I’m very sensitive when it comes to me and my social media. I don’t keep anything private. And because there’s not a lot of anonymity, I’m very careful with how much self-promotion goes on. I don’t really like that. I wanted people to get into the routine of people going to it without me asking. If that could happen on its own, then I know it would have some steam behind it — it wasn’t just people doing me favors.”
Occasionally, Browne would promote one of his entries that he felt was especially good. And because he didn’t do it often, his following took notice of the quality.
“Like the opposite of the boy who cried wolf,” Browne said.
As a testament to his strategy, several of his posts started to go viral. Two tournament-style brackets, where he compared the best Outkast and Jay-Z songs head-to-head, attracted the attention of Grantland editor Jay Caspian Kang. Grantland wanted to run Browne’s pieces essentially as-is, which they did. At that point, Grantland’s popularity was mainly attributable to the large following of its editor-in-chief, Bill Simmons, also known as “The Sports Guy.” After the success of his initial work for the site, Kang approached Browne about becoming a full-time staff writer.
“Writing on the Internet is still kind of like the Wild West,” Browne said. “Nobody actually knows how it can turn into an actual job.”
Browne still won’t call himself a sportswriter, a notion that’s supported by his editors at Grantland.
“They kind of just told me to do my own thing, stay in my lane,” he said.
For a site that advertises itself as a blend of sports and popular culture, Browne might be the perfect man for the job. Sure, he gets sent to cover some sporting events (he and Kang were sent to Madison Square Garden to watch Jeremy Lin during the height of Linsanity), but his role is much more versatile. He writes about music (like the festivals South By Southwest and Coachella), television shows (live-blogging episodes of HBO’s “How to Make it in America”) and public interest events (recently, the Trayvon Martin case). Mainly, he’s just told to observe.
“They give me a ton of freedom, to feel it out and write interestingly and cleverly about things that are usually written about very mundanely,” Browne said.
If you’ve met him or read anything he’s written, it makes sense that Browne was a sociology major — he really does have a lot of insight into how people interact with each other.
“I always thought he was a really charming, really fun guy,” Laura Kier ’12, a close friend of Browne’s, said. “He seemed to be really understanding of Dartmouth.”
His friends and fans everywhere are excited for him, especially for finding a way to get paid for following his passion.
“He’s doing what he loves, he gets to have his own schedule and do his own thing,” Kier said. “That’s how he works and thinks best.”
His classmate Ted Newhouse ’09 said he enjoys being asked by people who don’t know that he went to school with him if they’ve ever read anything by Rembert Browne on Grantland.
“I just go yeah, he’s a good friend of mine,” Newhouse said. “We’re all really happy for him. He’s doing what he loves and he’s doing it really well. It’s not very often you get to follow your friend’s career publicly like that.”
In the meantime, Browne's put grad school on hold and shut down his blog to focus on writing full-time for Grantland. He’s not writing once a day, but he’s writing a lot, and his pieces are absolutely worth a read. Think of his perspective as Dartmouth’s culture takes on the real world, but don’t expect him to tell you that. You have to find out on your own.