At 33, Arianna Davis has figured out a few things about going fearlessly in the direction of her dreams. That’s what happens when Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King take you under their wings, as they did her.
Now the digital director of OprahMag.com, Arianna has just published her first book, What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly inspired by the life and work of the free-spirited artist Frida Kahlo.
Arianna gave Bare it All the inside scoop on what she’s learned about going one’s own way, both from researching her heroine and from doing just that herself.
Q: Tell us about you personally.
A: I grew up outside of Baltimore, but I’ve lived in New York for nearly 12 years; according to Carrie Bradshaw, 10 years makes you a New Yorker, so I consider the city home. When I’m not working as digital director for Oprah Magazine, or teaching writing and editing for digital as an adjunct for New York University’s master’s program, I most likely have my nose buried in a book or my hands in a tangle of yarn as I knit and binge a show.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: When I was eight, I wrote a book about a skeleton and a monster who, against all odds, were best friends. Ever since then, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer. I studied journalism at Penn State, which eventually led to internships at The New York Daily News and then O. It was while I was an intern at O that an editorial assistant position—writing and assisting editor at large Gayle King—opened up, and the rest is history. I spent the first six years of my career at O. That magazine raised me. I went on to other jobs at Us Weekly and Refinery29 before returning to launch OprahMag.com as digital director in 2018.
Q: What made you come up with the idea for this book, and how did you turn it into a reality?
A: Not long after we launched the site, in early 2019 my now-agent approached me because Seal Press was interested in publishing something about the legacy of Frida Kahlo. They had been following my work and heard that I was a huge Frida fan. It was an intimidating concept at first, but after landing on the idea of it being not just another Frida biography, but also a guide to living boldly, one that would hopefully tell Frida’s story in a way that would inspire other women, like it’s done for me…well, I just knew this project was meant to be mine.
“You don’t have a choice BUT to take the bold route!”
Q: What is the takeaway of What Would Frida Do? How has it changed your approach to life?
A: My hope is that What Would Frida Do would be a celebration of the life of an iconic woman who was so far ahead of her time, who lived her life so boldly and authentically. I hope readers will be motivated to live their own lives their own way. Any time I find myself hesitating before making a big leap or having a down day, I think to myself, “Hello! You wrote a guide to living boldy inspired by one of history’s most famous women! You don’t have a choice but to take the bold route!”
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: These days, work is a bit less glamorous given that much of it happens in my sweatpants, on my laptop in my studio apartment, but I start every day by communing with my team on Slack; we publish up to 15 stories each day on OprahMag.com, so we chat about ideas, story progress, social media…. I greenlight pitches and ideas, check in on my writers and editor, sweep the internet to see what’s happening, check on our traffic…. In quarantine, as a way to keep our readers connected with some of their favorite faces, I launched an Instagram Live series for @oprahmagazine called Checking In, where I’ve interviewed everyone from Oprah to Ricky Martin, Gabrielle Union and Tracee Ellis Ross. So it turns out that even being in my sweatpants while working remotely can be a little bit glamorous!
Q: You work a big full-time job and wrote a book in your spare time. How do you prioritize and avoid burnout?
A: It was tough, I’m not going to lie. But mostly it just required a lot of organization, passion and commitment. I’d carve out a few hours in the evenings after work every weekday, and my loved ones knew that Saturdays were off-limits; I’d spend the entire day writing. But the best thing I did was take a week off and head to Mexico City, where I stayed in Frida’s neighborhood of Coyoacán. I explored her home, La Casa Azul, and her other favorite haunts, dug up rare books at local libraries and spent every night writing into the wee hours. It was incredibly productive and pure creative bliss.
Q: What challenges in your life have you had to surmount, and how’d you do it?
A: As a Black and Latina woman, for much of my career so far, I’ve often been the “only” one in many rooms, especially the more senior I’ve become. It can be challenging and incredibly lonely to constantly be the other, or to be afraid to speak up for fear of fitting into a stereotype or because it feels uncomfortable to speak your piece when no one else in the room can relate. But what’s kept pushing me to speak out is remembering that, with every rung up the ladder I climb, I’m opening the door for someone else like me.
“With every rung up the ladder I climb, I’m opening the door for someone else like me”
Q: What’s your best advice to women trying to live boldly in this moment? How can we support one another to live our best lives?
A: I think it’s so important to see other women in your industry as sisters instead of as competition. There’s this misconception that there’s not enough room for us all, and that’s fair, given the way society has made us feel that there’s only room for one woman or one person of color at the top. But that’s finally changing, and instead of putting someone down or keeping your secrets to success to yourself, I think we should all share as much as possible with other women who are just trying to get by, same as us. If nothing else, I think that putting good energy out into the world can only benefit you in the long run.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ARIANNA
Writer’s attire: I love the Kate Spade PJs collection—so fun and chic yet ridiculously soft and comfortable.
Style signature: Bright colors.
Personal mantra: Borrowed from Frida herself, Viva la vida!
Guilty pleasure: Pizza.
Best de-stressor: A good book before bed.
Career highlight: The first time I interviewed Oprah, while on set for the film Selma in Alabama. I was an assistant editor at O back then and could not believe what a full-circle moment it was to be interviewing the greatest interviewer of all time.
Secret talent: Knitting! Although I can only make blankets and scarves.
Craziest thing you’ve ever done: Talked up the publisher of Seventeen magazine in the bathroom after she gave a speech at a scholarship dinner at Penn State. But it was also the best thing I’ve ever done, because not long after I graduated, I contacted her for coffee and she eventually put in a good word for me with the internship supervisors at O!
Current obsession: The Crown.
Mood-boosting song: Anything by Beyonce.
In a word: Dreamer.