Danyel Smith (1965- ) is an American writer, best known as the former editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine. Yesterday she started work as executive editor of theroot.com. She has written two books: “More Like Wrestling” (2002) and “Bliss” (2005). She is married to Elliott Wilson, former editor-in-chief of XXL magazine!
I know I have read her stuff because her name is familiar, but I could not tell you what. She has written for Vibe, the New York Times, The Rolling Stone, Spin, The New Yorker, the San Francisco Guardian and others, writing mostly about music, particularly hip hop.
She was born in Oakland, California. At seven she started writing. At ten her family moved to Los Angeles, There she went to an all-black Catholic high school for girls. She got into Berkeley and went there for a few years but then dropped out without telling her parents.
She lived with her sister in Oakland and started writing. This was the 1980s when hip hop was something new:
When I first heard hip-hop, there’s no way to describe how it affected my life . It was such a great conversation, and no one was writing about it. I was happy to.
Then her stepfather appeared, driving up from Los Angeles, and asked what was going on. He took her to the offices of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and made her show her work to someone who could gainfully employ her. She met Tommy Tompkins: “Danyel was a remarkable individual, strong-willed, interesting, and cantankerous.” He saw her talent and hired her. His advice to her about writing: “Just tell the truth. Tell your truth and you will be fine.”
Her articles started appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe and others. In 1993 she took an offer to work for Billboard in New York. That did not work out but soon she landed at Vibe. In 1997 she became its first black editor-in-chief. Then in 1999 she left.
Over the next three years she wrote “More Like Wrestling” about two sisters living in Oakland in the 1980s in the age of crack. It is one of the first novels by and about black Oakland.
One editor saw the book and told her that she had to make a decision whether or not she was writing for black people or white people. And that she needed to have clearer heroes and heroines in the book.
The New York Times said her prose was “lyrical if sometimes rocky”. Michael Eric Dyson said it was “a work of beauty and moral complexity about love in its resplendent and damaging incarnations.”
The writers she looks to are Zora Neale Hurston, Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Joan Didion, Cristina Garcia, Sister Souljah and Ernest Hemingway.
“Bliss”, came out in 2005. It gives an inside view of the music industry. She says it is about “living with pain – not about forgiving or forgetting it”.
In 2006 she returned to Vibe. It was troubled and under new owners. In 2009 it went broke. Now she is at The Root.