Bon Appétit’s Next Editor in Chief Is a Book-World Star

Bon Appétit’s Next Editor in Chief Is a Book-World Star

Bon Appétit, the multimedia food-journalism outlet that has experienced a summer of racial strife in the workplace, has a new editor in chief: Dawn Davis, a prominent editor and executive who has been one of the few Black power players in the book world.

Condé Nast, the parent of Bon Appétit, announced the appointment on Thursday, saying Ms. Davis will start Nov. 2. It is a wide-ranging role that, in addition to the Bon Appétit brand, will give Ms. Davis editorial control of the company’s food outlets Epicurious​, ​Healthyish​ and ​Basically across all media, including print, digital, social media and video.

Ms. Davis, 55, succeeds Adam Rapoport, a 20-year veteran of Condé Nast who had led Bon Appétit for a decade before he resigned under pressure in June after a 2004 photo that showed him wearing an offensive costume resurfaced on social media. The image drew attention to broader problems at the magazine, where staff members had long complained about Mr. Rapoport’s boorish leadership style and a workplace culture of racial insensitivity. (Amanda Shapiro, the editor of Healthyish, has served as interim editor since Mr. Rapoport left.)

In the wake of Mr. Rapoport’s departure, Roger J. Lynch, the Condé Nast chief executive, and Anna Wintour, the company’s artistic director and the chair of its diversity and inclusion council, met several times with Bon Appétit staff members. During a meeting in June, Mr. Lynch said he hoped to prove the company’s commitment to diversity with the choice of Mr. Rapoport’s successor.

Ms. Davis is a vice president at Simon & Schuster, where she is the founder and publisher of 37 Ink, an imprint that emphasizes marginalized voices. During her more than two decades in the book business, she has shepherded a number of critically acclaimed and commercially successful literary works, including “The Known World,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Edward P. Jones, which she acquired during her time as the publisher of Amistad, a HarperCollins imprint.

It seems she will be at home in Bon Appétit’s test kitchen. An avid home cook, Ms. Davis is the author of “If You Can Stand the Heat: Tales From Chefs and Restaurateurs,” which included profiles of chefs such as Edna Lewis and Anthony Bourdain. She was also the editor of a cookbook, “Recipe of Memory: Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine,” by Mary Lau Valle and Victor M. Valle.

Ms. Davis, a graduate of Stanford University who was born in Los Angeles, said she planned for Bon Appétit to explore the importance of food in daily life and how it plays into broader issues. “It’s connected to issues of equity, issues of the environment, issues of family,” she said in an interview.

She was headed for a Wall Street career before making the switch to publishing. She worked in a variety of roles at the New Press, an independent house started in 1992 by André Schiffrin and Diane Wachtell, and at Random House’s Vintage imprint before becoming a publisher.

At Amistad, a book line devoted to works on the African diaspora, Ms. Davis had a hit with “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a novel by Chris Gardner that accompanied the Will Smith film of the same title. She repeated that success at 37 Ink with “The Butler,” a nonfiction book by Wil Haygood based on his Washington Post article on Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House under eight presidents; Lee Daniels made the film version.

Her imprint has also published “Heads of the Colored People,”​ by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, the winner of a 2019 Whiting Award; “I Can’t Make This Up,”​ by the comedian Kevin Hart; and “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl​,” by Issa Rae, a memoir that capitalized on the popularity of Ms. Rae’s YouTube series of the same name and helped pave the way for her HBO show, “Insecure.”

“Dawn’s work stands out for defining and leading important cultural conversations,” Ms. Wintour said in a statement. “She is a trusted voice and supporter of a diverse and inclusive community of writers, and she has shone a light on people and stories that need to be told.”

Mr. Lynch called Ms. Davis a “proven trailblazer in publishing” who was “known for her innovative approach.”

There is no doubt she will inherit a troubled workplace. The tensions at Bon Appétit did not dissolve with the exit of Mr. Rapoport.

Two days after his resignation, Matt Duckor, a Condé Nast executive who oversaw video for Bon Appétit and other titles, left the company after an online petition called for his removal, accusing him of overseeing a “discriminatory system that paid white editors at Bon Appétit for their video work, while their nonwhite editors received nothing.”

This month, three journalists of color said they would no longer participate in the magazine’s videos, accusing Condé Nast of failing to offer them pay that was commensurate to that of their white colleagues. Shortly after that, Bon Appétit’s only two Black editorial staff members resigned, saying Condé Nast had failed to recognize their contributions.

In a statement, Condé Nast said it had compensated its workers fairly, adding, “To suggest that we are paying individuals differently based on race, gender or any other reason simply isn’t true.” This month, the company announced that Sonia Chopra, previously of the food site Eater, would help lead Bon Appétit as its executive editor.

Bon Appétit has helped make Condé Nast a force in digital media, an area in which the company once struggled, largely on the strength of the recipe videos that have become staples in the media diets of millions of culinary-journalism fans. The U.S. arm of Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Wired, among other titles, lost about $100 million last year on about $900 million in revenue.

Ms. Davis will be one of few Black people to lead a Condé Nast publication in the United States. The first was Keija Minor, the editor in chief of Brides from 2012 to 2017. (Last year, facing financial difficulties, Condé Nast sold Brides to Dotdash, a digital company led by Barry Diller.)

Asked about the challenges to come, Ms. Davis said, “I will lead by example and treat people the way I’ve always been treated, which is with respect, and give everyone an opportunity to shine.”

She added that her favorite recent recipe is one by Andy Baraghani, a Bon Appétit senior food editor, for salmon with turmeric and a coconut crisp. But her go-to dish, as a working mother during a pandemic, has been roast chicken.

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