Flavor Profiles with Arianna Davis #014
Meet Arianna Davis, journalist, Senior Director of Editorial & Strategy @OprahDaily, and author of the ever-inspiring What Would Frida Do?: A Guide to Living Boldly.
Through this series, our aim is to share the stories and work of those who inspire us most here at Loisa — those who bring their own pure flavor to this world and elevate our lives by doing so.
A bit about Arianna Davis
Arianna Davis is one of those rare individuals who at a young age knew exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up. Davis—who is a journalist, Senior Director of Editorial + Strategy at Oprah Daily and author of What Would Frida Do?: A Guide to Living Boldly,—discovered her love for reading when she was in the third grade. It eventually inspired her passion for writing. She went on to study at Penn State University majoring in journalism, with the goal of pursuing a career in magazines.
“Working in magazines was always the goal. But I never really thought the magazine industry could be a world for me. At the time, I didn’t really see women who looked like me in the magazine world,” Davis tells Loisa. “It’s a very glamorous and exclusive world. In order to break into magazines you have to have the means and the connections to intern at some of the top magazines in NYC in order to get your foot in the door." Luckily, Davis was able to find that connection, and before she knew it she was working a post-grad, full-time editorial internship position at O, The Oprah magazine, which literally set the foundation for her career. She moved up from there as Gayle King’s assistant, then made her way to editor before taking on positions at places like UsWeekly and Refinery29. But in 2018 she came back to the place that started it all for her.
“In 2018, Hearst decided that it was a good time to finally launch an editorial website for Oprah magazine. It’s hard to believe there wasn’t one for so many years but it just became the right time to expand and revamp Oprah magazine and the Oprah brand,” she says. “That year I came back to Hearst to combine all my experiences as Digital Director and we launched the site. Since then I’ve been overseeing all of our editorial, social, video, content, and strategy.” Davis was promoted this year from Digital Director to Senior Director of Editorial + Strategy of Oprah Daily, yet another evolution of the Oprah brand.
A lot of Davis’ storytelling is inspired by her culture and experience being a woman of color. It influences everything from her writing, her relationship with food and her debut book — What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly.
What brought you to do what you do today?Not long after I launched oprahmag.com — I want to say early 2019 — Hachette Book Group which has an imprint called Seal Press, reached out to me because they had been following my work for some time and were thinking about publishing a book about Frida Kahlo. They were thinking a book that celebrates women and women empowerment and that tells the story for a new generation of Frida Kahlo fans, would be really interesting. And they had also heard from a former colleague of mine that I was a really big Frida Kahlo fan so they basically reached out and asked if I had any interest in writing about Frida and if I had any ideas. At first I was like how am I going to run this brand new baby website while working on a book? But I also realized I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to write a book and to write about Frida Kahlo. The question I was asking myself was how can I contribute to her story in a way that’s new but still serves as an extension to her legacy? And that’s how I came up with What Would Frida Do? It’s a guide to living boldly written by someone who is a huge Frida super fan, to just share the lessons that I’ve learned from her life and just how bold she was and how ahead of her time she was. It’s sharing the lessons that I’ve learned and the lessons that I think many of us as women — women in particular especially — can learn from Frida. The book was published in October 2020 and it’s been an exciting ride and I’ve been loving every minute of it.
Are there any new developments with the book we can expect this year?
The big push was really when the book came out in October. Right around the holidays I did a lot of promotions and just made sure it was on people’s radar for holiday roundups and gift guides. But now it’s really organic. A lot of people have been finding out about it. I did a lot of podcast interviews and definitely a lot of Instagram Lives since everything has been virtual. I did a few different panels. There are a few upcoming things that I’ll be working on for Women’s History Month. While it’s definitely a book for Frida fans, I also think it’s a book for the woman who is looking for a little inspiration and motivation in her life. I think that people are just gravitating towards it in their own way. Later this year, it’s actually going to be available in paperback and then it’s going to be translated in Spanish and in Portuguese. It’s also now an audio book. It came out as an audiobook in January.
How are excited are you to have the book translated in Spanish?
I’m just imagining the book being in Mexico and being available in Spanish and that makes me so proud because that’s an important audience. I think Frida would want it to be in Mexico and available in Spanish for Spanish speakers. Stay tuned for the date but I know for sure that’s definitely happening in 2021!
What’s your relationship with food like? Would you consider yourself a foodie?
I guess I am. But I feel like foodie is one of those labels that gets so overused. I’m like, doesn't everyone love food? But I definitely think food is very important in my life. I think it always has been because I come from two cultures. My dad is Black — he’s African American — and my mom is Puerto Rican. So growing up food was always important. All my memories around holidays and the things that I associate with family have been around food and gatherings. We would spend Thanksgiving at my aunt’s on my dad’s side and that’s where we had fried turkey, collard greens and mac and cheese. American food — soul food — was the food we’d enjoy from that side of the family. And then I would go to my grandmother’s house in the Bronx for holidays and we would enjoy things like pasteles, rice and beans, and all the Puerto Rican meals. As a result, food has always been such a big part of who I am.
What’s a meaningful tradition in your life that revolves around food?
I would say the traditions that still exist in my family are the ones around the holidays and Christmas time. My grandmother on the Puerto Rican side makes pasteles still every year and we prepare and drink coquito every year around the holidays. These are some of the staples in Puerto Rican culture that we still very much embrace. We used to always do Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house on my dad’s side but then she passed away. Then my grandfather died on my mom’s side and the family just keeps getting smaller and smaller. It’s become harder to keep up with some of those same big family traditions that we had when we were kids. But I think we’re just trying to hold on to the ones we still have as much as we can.
What’s a flavor or dish that transports you to a certain place no matter where you have it?
The thing that immediately popped in my mind is when I went to Thailand with my girlfriends back in 2014. Before that point I had been to Paris — which is my favorite city in the world. But other than Paris, I had mostly been to countries in the Caribbean. So Thailand was our first big international trip. It was a really great trip and I was so obsessed with pad thai the whole time I was there. I enjoyed trying different versions. There was pad thai with prawns or pad thai with tofu. So whenever I find a restaurant in NYC with really great pad thai it literally transports me back to that trip and reminds me of the amazing time we had. There’s the New York version and the American version of international foods so when I do find a spot that really reminds me of the authentic food of Thailand it always takes me back to that trip. There’s a restaurant in Long Island City that’s called Tuk Tuk. They have really good Thai food. You can just tell that the food is made with love and just really authentically. I see the real Thai culture there.
Do you have a Puerto Rican dish you love making?
I really enjoy making bistec encebollado. I’ll make it with rice and beans and tostones. I love making tostones. That’s probably one of my favorites. I also sometimes will make a picadillo with ground turkey, garlic, onions, and olives. I honestly don’t cook a lot of Puerto Rican food because my grandmother is like the chef of the family. She lives in the Bronx and usually any time I really want Puerto Rican food, I’ll just go to my grandmother’s house because I know she’ll just make it better than I ever will. My grandma makes her own sofrito and I think that’s why my food never comes out like hers because I don’t normally prepare that. Sometimes she’ll give me a jar of her sofrito to take home. She’s so old school in everything she does. She even knows where to find the specific ingredients she needs. I’m always like can you teach me how to cook a dish and she’ll be like oh you just need a little bit of this or that. And I’m like I need measurements! But it’s still on my to-do-list to learn how to make my grandmother’s Puerto Rican recipes. She’s 92 so now is the time when I really have to start thinking about this.
What’s really inspiring you these days?
I think what’s inspiring me these days are my long walks. It’s been really cold but I’ve been trying to still force myself to go on these walks because I’m home and working all the time. I’m always either on my laptop, on my phone, or on the couch watching Netflix. I’m always on some kind of screen and I think that after a while it just makes me feel like I’m losing brain cells because I’m just plugged to a screen all the time. Those walks really help me to unplug and feel inspired. Once I have that breathing space I’m able to find inspiration in the little things. Just being in touch with nature helps ground me. It’s hard being trapped inside especially us New Yorkers since it’s been so cold out. But I try to find a way to get out there. Also reading inspires me a lot. I’m a huge book worm and any time I find a book that I can’t really put down it often inspires me and makes me want to write.
Follow and connect with Arianna on Instagram here!
Photo credit: Oneika Raymond, Arianna Davis