In an industry where corporate loyalty has gone the way of the dodo, Susan L. Taylor has been synonymous with the Essence brand since the magazine's launch in 1970. Today, the NY Times reports that Ms. Taylor is stepping down from her post as publications director (she held that title for 7 years; she was editor-in-chief of the magazine from 1981-2000) to focus on the nonprofit she started, the National Cares Mentoring Movement. (As described in the Times, the organization's mission "is a call to action for every able black adult to take under wing a vulnerable young person, which costs nothing.")
Taylor, who could be described as the anti-Anna Wintour in almost every way, was the only single mom on staff when she joined Essence in 1970, and, as she moved up the editorial ladder, she always made sure stress the importance of female staffers living their personal lives as fully as their professional ones.
In 2004 Taylor told Black Issues Book Review: "I couldn't attend meetings beginning at 6 P.M. because I had to pick up my daughter. Those years made me so sensitive to how difficult it is for people to meet the many demands on them outside of work, and over the years I've worked with brilliant women who also care deeply about black people and have more to say than they can communicate in Essence. My commitment is to try as best I can to support anyone trying to advance our people."
In addition to her commitment to her staff, Taylor also championed many up and coming black fiction writers on the pages of Essence. Back in the 50s and 60s, serious fiction littered the pages of all the most popular women's magazines — Mademoiselle published the early work of Truman Capote, Harper's Bazaar had Carson McCullers' fiction — but now, Essence is one of the few ladymags that continues to publish serious short fiction on a regular basis. According to BIBR: "American readers first met the work of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat in Essence's pages, which have also been a nurturing proving ground for fiction writers like Bebe Moore Campbell and Terry McMillan."
With stories published often about the paucity of women in upper level media jobs, Ms. Taylor's example serves as a beacon, not just for the youths she hopes to mentor through her National Cares movement, but to female editors everywhere. Dear Kate White, Ms. Wintour and the rest of the lot — you could probably learn a thing or two from Ms. Taylor as well.