NEW YORK — When she was about to graduate from college, Elaine Welteroth came up with a life plan: She’d hit the top of a magazine masthead, then move into TV, books, film and beyond.
She wasn’t messing around. The 32-year-old is way ahead of schedule after making firsts at Teen Vogue, both as beauty-health director and top editor, then checking off “book” with the release of her memoir, “More Than Enough.”
”I think I’ve always been an ambitious person. I had this kind of blueprint in my mind of what success would look like,” Welteroth told The Associated Press ahead of the book’s debut. “The thing what I didn’t predict was just how fast the magazine part would happen.”
In 2016, to fanfare, Welteroth was named editor in chief of Teen Vogue, making her the youngest and only the second person of African American heritage in Condé Nast’s 107-year history to hold such a title. But she was only getting started, transforming the dusty property into an engaging platform for activism, inclusion, politics and social justice and earning rock star status among young fans as she helped steer Teen Vogue into the digital age.
She developed the Teen Vogue Summit, bringing together young change-makers to soak up the words of elders Hillary Clinton and Maxine Waters, along with peer idols Yara Shahidi, Rowan Blanchard and others.
”We were able to help change the way many adults think about young people, who for too long have been underestimated and thought of as the selfie generation,” Welteroth said. “They are much more concerned about the issues impacting our world and how they can change them than we’ve ever given them credit for.”
The first summit played out amid hard times for the magazine industry. Teen Vogue’s print edition folded in late 2017 and Welteroth resigned soon after. Her frank retelling of those days includes some dark moments of ill health and personal frustrations for the self-avowed perfectionist and workaholic.
”Burnout is real,” said the small-town Northern California native, looking back on her wider-eyed era after 11 years in the media business. That includes a stop at Ebony magazine.
Struggling with workaholic tendencies, Welteroth remains committed to telling stories of the under-represented, just as she was at Teen Vogue. Only now, she’s doing it not as the youngest or the first but with friends and acquaintances named Ava (Duvernay), Shonda (Rhymes) and Lena (Waithe), having already earned a farewell hug and blessings from the person who took her career next level when she invited her into the “Condé Castle,” Anna Wintour.
”I have this arsenal of powerful, creative black women who are excelling in their careers, and it’s amazing to be alive right now. There’s never been a better time to be an empowered woman,” Welteroth said.