To begin a media career that has included stints as fashion director at Essence, founding editor of Uptown magazine and editor-in-chief of Ebony, Harriette Cole started with what she knew: fashion. The former runway model used her field expertise to wrangle two internships for herself.
There were no internships in liberal arts, so I created them at two free papers in Washington, D.C. I convinced them to let me write about fashion and gave myself a year to collect a body of clips. When that milestone got close, I reached out to two women I’d stayed in touch with from school who worked at magazines and asked if they knew of any job openings. They both did, one position at Fairchild Publications [now Fairchild Fashion Media] and another at Essence. I was offered both, but I took the job at Essence.
But before Harriette Cole was writing, she was typing. The first job the Howard graduate had was on the Hill, and it was far from glamorous. Cole’s role was secretarial in nature, but she found a way to write, and learned a lesson she continues to pass on:
They did all kinds of writing to their constituencies, in the space of art, in particular, and I would say, ‘I can write. Let me help you!’ They were kind of like, ‘Ugh, just do your job.’ I became an excellent typist, so I would be finished with my work by noon and have nothing else to do so they would let me help them. When I left there, I typed 90 words a minute. I didn’t tell anyone because my interest was not to become a secretary. But when I wrote my first book, I was able to do it, never on Essence time, by deadline, with the research completed and all of the typing done. I always tell young people: master the thing that you have to do that you hate the most and put it in your toolbox. One day, you’re going to use it.