David Smallwood, Chicago journalist, author, longtime N’Digo editor, dead at 66
Smallwood co-authored and edited several books on Black icons and was editor of N’digo for more than 30 years. He died June 11 from complications of cancer and COVID-19.
David Smallwood caught the journalism bug as a teen, writing for Black X-Press, the newspaper then published by his mentor, the late pioneering civil rights activist and journalist Lu Palmer.
That was from 1973 to 1975. At the same time, he was working his way up at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he worked from 1972-1977, starting as what was then called a “copyboy,” then moving to wire room clerk, library clerk, and finally, reporter.
It was the beginning of a prolific career. Mr. Smallwood would take his love of words to the Black press, as assistant editor at Jet Magazine, and as a member of the teams that built Dollars & Sense magazine and N’Digo “magapaper” into renowned publications.
Mr. Smallwood, of Park Forest, who was diagnosed last year with multiple myeloma, died June 11 from complications of the rare blood and bone cancer, and COVID-19. He was 66.
“David was compassionate. David was super intelligent. David was an amazing writer,” said his wife, Louise Fort, to whom he was married for 18 years, and with whom he had three daughters. “He was a humble soul, who cherished his daughters and loved his wife. God has him in His arms, and I will always have him in my heart. He will be greatly missed.”
Born in Chicago to Annie Mae Smallwood and Frank Cook on Feb. 1, 1955, Mr. Smallwood was raised on the South Side, attended Dixon Elementary School and Lindblom High School, and was involved in researching and writing its 100-Year History, a project launched by alumni in 2007.
Lindblom alumni in 2018 created a GoFundMe campaign to try to finish the book in time for the school’s 2019 centennial celebration. Mr. Smallwood, who had co-authored and edited four books, was endeavoring to complete the project when he fell ill.
“Greetings, fellow Eagles and Eagles supporters. It’s been a while, so I’m writing to update you on the status of the Lindblom History Project, which as you know has been an ongoing effort for the past decade or so to write the history of the first 100 years of our beloved high school,” he wrote in a Jan. 1 update on the GoFundMe page.
“Well, in short ... we’re still working on it!” he wrote. “In the Spring, I came down with cancer ... which landed me in the hospital and rehab for two months in August and September, unable to walk and with a broken left arm (fractures are common with the disease). Bad as that sounds, I’m on the mend and rebounding nicely, thank God. If I haven’t communicated with some of you recently that volunteered ... this partially explains why.”
Mr. Smallwood began working at the Sun-Times after high school with the paper awarding him a full-ride National Achievement Scholarship. He attended Shimer College in Mount Carroll for a year, then transferring to University of Illinois at Chicago, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in communications in 1976 — one of 150 students selected for a pioneering student-designed curriculum.
He spent a year at Johnson Publishing Co.’s Jet magazine, then helped launch Dollars & Sense in 1979; as associate editor, he helped turn that newsletter into a national magazine. He also wrote for the Chicago Reporter and taught journalism at Columbia College.
Mr. Smallwood later served as communications director at Olive-Harvey College, from 1987-1994, and in 1989, was tapped by Hermene Hartman to help launch N’Digo, a combination newspaper/magazine of African American profiles.
“David Smallwood was the first person I went to with the idea of N’Digo. He was a masterful writer. I wanted him on the team. He said ‘I am in.’ And he was all in. He became the editor,” said Hartman, with whom Mr. Smallwood co-authored the 2017 “N’Digo LEGACY: BLACK LUXE - 110 African American Icons of Contemporary History.”
“He read every word of every paper to make sure that it was right, with meaning and context. He often stayed at the office, sleeping on a couch, on deadline days. He understood and was part of the mission to change the narrative of Black Chicago. We were ahead of our time. David worked diligently, always realizing the beauty and power of the written word. His touch always made it better,” Hartman said.
Over the next 32 years, Mr. Smallwood would serve as contributing editor, production editor, then editor.
In 1996, he co-authored “Profiles of Great African Americans,” with journalists Stan West and Allison Keyes. And in 2009, co-authored two tomes, “Black Enough/White Enough: The Obama Dilemma,” with then Illinois State Sen. Rickey R. Hendon; and “The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent,” with the late Herb Kent. He ran a media consulting business from 2004-2018.
On his LinkedIn page, Mr. Smallwood writes: “I have well over half a million of my own words in print under my byline in newspapers, magazines and books, and have edited about two million words of other writers that have seen the printed page and/or appeared online.”
A member of the National Association of Black Journalists, Mr. Smallwood mentored two generations of journalists he either hired, trained or edited. He enjoyed reading and writing, and on holidays, could be found barbecuing, watching sports and reading the newspaper, his family said.
Besides his wife, survivors include daughters Clarissa Reed, Danielle Smallwood, and Emerin Smallwood; his sons from a previous marriage, Christopher and Damon; and 12 grandchildren.
Services are at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Leak and Sons Funeral Home, 18400 S. Pulaski Rd., Country Club Hills. Visitation is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.