So What Do You Do, Danyel Smith, Editor, Author and Co-Founder of HRDCVR?



There’s a piece of advice Danyel Smith received her first day on the job as editor-in-chief of Vibe that’s resonated with the writer-slash-editor-slash-author ever since: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. It came from her mother, delivered in that simplified, stripped down, yeah-it-really-is-that-easy manner that momfolk have. Creatively and professionally, it freed Smith in what has culminated into an enviable, 20-year career at major titles — among them, Time and Billboard — which has solidified her spot on the list of editorial doyennes.

A 2013-2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University brought that initial nugget of mama wisdom full circle. “I have higher expectations of myself to not do stuff because I should. That’s easy to forget,” she confessed. “Someone there said, ‘Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do exactly that. You can do other things.’ That’s why Stanford was so amazing.” Feeling reborn is part of it. Now wholly submerged in the anticipated publication of HRDCVR, a culture magazine she co-founded with husband and fellow journo Elliott Wilson, she’s exemplifying it. “It’s a good feeling to be working for something that you really, really believe in,” Smith beamed.

Here, she talks professional reinvention, new platforms and more.

Name: Danyel Smith
Position: Editor, journalist, author, speaker and entrepreneur
Resume: Started career as freelance writer and columnist at the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express. Became music editor of San Francisco Weekly. Freelanced for Spin as a reporter and columnist. Moved to New York in 1993 to become R&B editor at Billboard; returned in 2011 to become the first African-American editor at the mag. Helped build the Vibe brand, first as music editor, then as editor-in-chief in 1997 — the first African-American and woman to hold the position. Returned to the publication in 2006 to head both digital and print platforms. Became editor-at-large at Time Inc. for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle and Time. Penned two novels, More Like Wrestling and Bliss. Served as writer-in-residence at Skidmore College. Taught at New School University, Saint Mary’s College and, most recently, a gender, race and media class at Syracuse University. Plans to launch HRDCVR in February 2015.
Birthday: June 23
Hometown: East Oakland, Calif.
Education: University of California, Berkeley; New School University
Marital status: Married
Media mentor: Writer and music critic Ann Powers
Last book read: The Buenos Aires Quintet, by Manuel Vazquez Montalban
Guilty pleasure: “Sometimes, I just have to have a chili cheese dog with extra onions and mustard. You know that little wax paper it comes on? I can eat it as well.”
Twitter handle: @danamo

When you look back over your career, what new skill or a-ha moment did you glean from each position that contributed to who you are now?
I’ve had too many jobs and made too many decisions to even begin to answer that question in its entirety. It was just time for me to get out of New York because I felt like I had lost some of my California spirit. I’m from Oakland. I know that D.C. girls have a certain thing and sometimes Philly girls try to act like they’re kind of special. There’s no shade or disrespect to those lovely ladies, but Oakland girls are the truth and it’s common knowledge. So I decided I needed to re-up on that strength, confidence and optimism — that I-can-change-the-world attitude. I was very happy I got into the Stanford program. It was a very difficult process. Even though my husband and I were going to be living on separate coasts for 10 months, and I was leaving my friends and my community in New York, which I love and respect, it’s the best decision I’ve made in the last five years, without question.