It’s been almost a year since Time magazine and New York Times alum Radhika Jones, seemingly out of nowhere, was handed the reins at the iconic Vanity Fair magazine after Graydon Carter’s retirement, and she has breathed new life into the publication, surprising readers with her choice of cover subjects and features.
Jones’s father (an American singer and guitarist, who was a prominent figure on the Cambridge, Massachusetts folk scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s) met her mother (a Mumbaikar who was in Europe studying languages), in Paris in 1970 and they eloped. Jones was born in New York and grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with a brother and a sister, and they visited New York City every summer. When her father decided he wanted to travel less, Jones sold T-shirts and worked at the box office at the many events he helped produce, like the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals.
It’s such an interesting time to take the role, just because there is so much change outside of Vanity Fair in the worlds that we cover. It feels like we have all this opportunity to tell new stories with new faces and new voices.
Jones studied English and American literature at Harvard and holds a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia, where she has also taught courses in writing and literature. She began her career in Moscow at the English-language Moscow Times, first as the copy editor, with a stint as the restaurant critic and then as the arts editor. After some time as an editor at Artforum, Grant Street and Colors, she became the managing editor of The Paris Review.
In 2008, Jones joined Time magazine as arts editor and eventually as executive editor, where she edited many of the magazine’s special issues, including Time’s Person of the Year and the annual Time 100. Her writing and reviews have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Time, The Paris Review, Bookforum (where she wrote a column called “Collections,” profiling cultural figures through the contents of their bookshelves), Bomb, Words Without Borders and The Literary Reviews.
In 2016, Jones moved to The New York Times as the editorial director of the books department and she was there just one year before accepting one of the most high-profile jobs in media: editor-in-chief of the iconic Vanity Fair magazine.
Jones, 44, took over in December 2017, succeeding Graydon Carter, who had announced in September that he was stepping down after 25 years at the helm. She became Vanity Fair’s sixth editor since its founding in 1913 and the fifth since it was revived in the early 1980s. She also became the first woman to run the magazine since Carter’s predecessor, Tina Brown, and the first woman of colour to ever hold the top spot at the magazine, which is owned by Condé Nast.
The bookish Jones, whose Twitter description reads “Writer, doctor, book-club moderator, obsessive rereader,” and whose Times colleague described as “whip-smart and unassuming, with meticulous handwriting and an erstwhile fondness for Tetris” was not the “gallivanting celebrity editor” media observers expected, the same colleague wrote. But, the favourite candidate of New Yorker editor David Remnick, reportedly beat out Hollywood Reporter’s and Billboard Media Group co-president Janice Min, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider and Times editor Andrew Ross Sorkin for the position, among others.
Tasked with reimagining the magazine, its digital properties and its conference business, in her first editor’s letter Jones wrote: “I hope the cast of characters in our next chapter will surprise you . . . I hope you’ll find stories that you didn’t even know you’ve been waiting for.”
Radhika Jones/The New York Times
One thing I really learned from my father was the kind of excitement and rush of discovering new talent and keeping an open mind to new voices and bringing artists together.
She signaled the beginning of a new era, in part meaning more youthful and diverse stars, by featuring Lena Waithe on her first cover — a gay black female Hollywood up-and-comer. Sans Vanity Fair’s usual glitz and glam, in the cover photo shot by Annie Leibovitz, Waithe wears a plain white T-shirt and two simple chain necklaces and her dreadlocks frame her face. There’s no make up, no lipstick, no designer credits. The cover broke the internet, with stars like Ava DuVernay calling it a game-changer, Mindy Kaling tweeting that she is shook and excited, and Gabrielle Union calling it emotional for so many who don’t feel seen. Emelia Clarke, Kendrick Lamar, Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, and Michael B. Jordan have also graced recent Vanity Fair covers.
Jones told CNN’s Brian Stelter, in an interview, that she wants the publication to feel timely and relevant and that audiences are hungry for new faces and voices. Clearly, change has come to these glossy pages.
Main Image Photo Credit: www.vanityfair.com