Bon Appétit names Dawn Davis, celebrated Simon & Schuster exec, new editor-in-chief
Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit has a new editor-in-chief: Dawn Davis, VP and publisher of 37 Ink, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that she founded. Davis will formally take the reins at Bon Appétit on Nov. 2.
In a prepared statement announcing the appointment, Condé made a point of noting that Davis “has championed and elevated underrepresented voices” in book publishing—a legacy that’s of key importance not only at this moment in the larger culture, but particularly at Bon Appétit, which made headlines earlier this year for having a workplace culture that many staffers saw as toxic and noninclusive (see “Bon Appétit’s Editor-in-Chief Resigns After Staff Outcry,” via Grubstreet/New York Magazine, and “Bon Appétit staff seeks to ‘dismantle racism’ from within after Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapoport’s departure,” from ABC News).
A lifelong foodie, Davis tells Ad Age that she sees her new role as “an opportunity to connect with this other part of my brain, this other part of my passion ... and to produce really interesting and provocative stories that talk about food and commerce, food and the environment, food and family.” (See more of the conversation below.)
Davis is the author of the 1999 narrative cookbook “If You Can Stand the Heat: Tales From Chefs & Restaurateurs,” which profiled notable chefs including Anthony Bourdain, Bobby Flay, Edna Lewis, Michael McCartney, Linda Rodriguez and Patricia Williams. Over the years she’s acquired and published various food-related titles, including “Recipe of Memory: Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine,” by Mary Lau Valle and Victor M. Valle, which was nominated for two Julia Child Cookbook Awards and a James Beard Award.
At 37 Ink, her titles include “Heads of the Colored People” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, winner of a 2019 Whiting Award; “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave,” a 2017 National Book Award finalist by Ona Judge; “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For,” by Susan Rice; “The Butler: A Witness to History,” by Wil Haygood; “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” by Issa Rae; and “I Can’t Make This Up,” by Kevin Hart.
Before coming to Simon & Schuster, Davis oversaw the Amistad imprint at HarperCollins, where her stable of writers included Edward P. Jones—she edited his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel “The Known World”—Attica Locke, Bill Cheng and Chris Gardner.
“A proven trailblazer in publishing and known for her innovative approach, Dawn’s ability to find emerging voices and give them the platforms to transform our society is unparalleled,” Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch said in a statement. “As she joins Bon Appétit with one of the most passionate and engaged audiences in the culinary world, it’s thrilling to think about how our relationship with food will be enhanced through her leadership and vision.”
Davis was the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ 2019 Editor’s Award (“The Editor’s Award recognizes a book editor who has made an outstanding contribution to the publication of poetry or literary prose over a sustained period of time”). A graduate of Stanford University, she lives in New York City with her family.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
You have had a great run at 37 Ink. You’ve been highly accomplished and honored and your momentum hasn’t slowed down at all over the years. It's a great platform. Why this new platform? Why this job now?
Well, thank you, first of all, for that. So, I have always loved food and thought of food as central to our culture. I wrote a cookbook—I was just looking at the date, it was published in 1999—and I went around the country interviewing chefs and thinking about issues like women in the kitchen—why are there so few professional women chefs? And why are ethnic restaurants only allowed, you know, to charge a certain amount?
I always thought of food as a conduit to culture. I remember early memories of having access to other people’s culture through their food. So this is an opportunity to connect with this other part of my brain, this other part of my passion, and also bring the writers that I’ve worked with over 30 years into the mix as well, to hopefully bring them into the pages of Bon Appétit. And to produce really interesting and provocative stories that talk about food and commerce, food and the environment, food and family.
How did this opportunity present itself?
So, I was called to suggest writers. And I suggested a few. And one thing led to another, because I do have this passion and it’s not new, it’s not sudden—and also, I’m a working mom and I use the magazine to come up with ideas and inspiration, so I’m familiar with the brand. You’re right. I’ve worked to establish a really good brand at 37 Ink and I’m interested in high-caliber [content], so it kind of made sense as we started to talk.
This is obviously a historic moment for Bon Appétit. What are you going to do to change its very scrutinized, criticized workplace culture?
I think the first thing I’m going to do is lead by example, and be respectful, and to listen to what the team—which has already been through quite a bit—listen to what they think works. Listen to what ambitions they have for themselves and for the brand that they may not have been able to carry out under previous leadership. And I’m going to listen to what readers want.
What becomes of 37 Ink?
You’ll have to ask Simon & Schuster. But I know that at Simon & Schuster, author-care is first and foremost. I’ve taken on authors when their editors have left, and I treated those books as if they were my own acquisitions—I’ve given them as much love and bandwidth as I do the books that I’ve acquired myself. And I know that that’s what they’re going to do for the books and the authors that I won’t be working with anymore. But I think I’ll be able to continue to talk about books from time to time and work with these writers as well, when they’re between books, so I do think that there will be a continuum.
The best people I’ve worked with in book publishing are devoted to the care and feeding of writers, and the way you spoke about your stable just now tells me you know exactly what to do in a magazine environment and at Condé Nast.
Oh, thank you, Simon.
I know you have to go, but one last last question: What’s for dinner tonight?
[laughter] Well, I am in Massachusetts right now, and a good friend came to visit, so we’re going to do what all working moms do when they have a moment and a best friend in town. We’re going to go out and let someone else feed us. [laughter] But I just cut-and-pasted a recipe, fish with a spicy corn relish, that I got from Bon Appétit that I plan on making tomorrow.