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Ex-Teen Vogue star editor Elaine Welteroth talks race, ambition, burnout in new book

Author remains committed to telling stories of the underrepresented, only now with help from friends named Ava (Duvernay), Shonda (Rhymes) and Lena (Waithe).

Elaine Welteroth.
Elaine Welteroth.

When she was finishing college, Elaine Welteroth came up with a life plan: She’d run a magazine, then move on to TV, books, film and more.

Welteroth, 32, is ahead of schedule, making firsts at Teen Vogue as beauty-health director and top editor, then checking off “book” with Tuesday’s release of her memoir “More Than Enough” (Viking, $26).

“I had this kind of blueprint in my mind of what success would look like,” Welteroth says. “The thing what I didn’t predict was just how fast the magazine part would happen.”

In 2016, Welteroth was named editor in chief of Teen Vogue, making her the youngest person and only the second of African American heritage in Condé Nast’s 107-year history to hold such a title. She transformed it into an engaging platform for activism, inclusion and social justice, earning rock-star status among young fans.

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.

Teen Vogue’s print edition folded in late 2017. Welteroth resigned soon after. Her frank retelling of those days includes dark moments.

“Burnout is real,” says the small-town Northern California native, whose 11 years in the media business includes working at Ebony.

Struggling with workaholic tendencies, Welteroth remains committed to telling stories of the underrepresented. Now, she’s doing it with friends and acquaintances named Ava (DuVernay), Shonda (Rhimes) and Lena (Waithe).

In the book’s foreword, DuVernay writes that Welteroth’s story points to the value of “knowing that the bad is our choice and the good is our choice. And to work to choose the good.”

Welteroth, who’s also a judge on Bravo’s rejuvenated “Project Runway,” hopes to lift others, as she was lifted by her mentors of color.

She writes of growing up in Newark, California, one of two children of a white father, Jack, and a black mother, Debra. She says her parents were committed to keeping black culture alive in their home in a predominantly white enclave skirting the San Francisco Bay.

Her mother was a child of the Baptist church and backwoods Georgia who loves singing gospel and worked as a typist, and her father’s a chain-smoking, guitar-playing hippie wild child and ex-carpenter who cussed like a sailor and drank a little too much.

“My mother and my father decided before their children were born that they were going to raise black children because it would just be easier that way, and they wanted to make things simple for us,” says Welteroth, who identifies as a black woman.

“More Than Enough” by Elaine Welteroth.
“More Than Enough” by Elaine Welteroth.

“But, as children who didn’t understand the nuances of race in America, when that Census card would come around every year, as a little tiny act of rebellion, my brother and I would check both black and white. We didn’t understand why we would have to choose one when we are both.”

Welteroth embraces her biracial status as one of her “superpowers.” She says she also has come to realize, as a mixed-race person, “you have some measure of white privilege, and therefore you will have access to certain spaces that you can operate in almost as an undercover change agent.”

She says her book “is about lighting torches” and hopes it “will inspire young women to dream a little bit bigger and to support other women as you go.”

Elaine Welteroth will appear at 7 p.m. June 28 at Wilson Abbey, 935 W. Wilson Ave., at a ticketed event with Women & Children First bookstore. Tickets are $32.49, including a copy of the book.