There are two qualities every determined writer should have: confidence and sheer ingenuity.
Enter journalist, CNN correspondent and fiction author Toure. Now a champion of black and pop culture, his legendary beginnings in music journalism give even the worst intern hope.
Interested in getting his foot in the door, he applied for an internship at Rolling Stone and got it. Then, instead of actually doing menial intern tasks, he delegated them to other interns. "She wants you to answer this phone," he would say, and they would. Toure would peruse the office for editors to talk to, with no remorse. "I wasn't really feeling guilty that I didn't collate the letters that I was supposed to collate. Somebody else did it," Toure says of his clever plan. "I slept well."
Eventually he got fired, but not without getting then-editor Anthony DeCurtis (now a part-time professor at Penn) to give him a review assignment. "I think it was Naughty by Nature's second album," Toure remembers. "I liked it, but more than that I needed to be able to see a unifying theme throughout it -- or something that was being said, sociologically through what they were doing. I was able to do that. So that led to a good review." That good review led to more work, and eventually a stint at Columbia for graduate studies in creative writing.
A few years later, 33-year old Toure has spent a day with Halle Berry, hung out with Kanye West, experienced Mary J. Blige's bitchy side and pissed off Puff Daddy. But, upset musicians are all in a day's work when you are being loyal to your craft. "You have to still do the story in a way that is honest to you so that you don't feel like you've compromised yourself," Toure says. "You should write negative stories from time to time. It makes you interesting. It makes the audience pay attention to you."
Recently, though, Toure has made a return to his true passion, fiction writing, in the form of a novel titled Soul City. It captures the adventures of a big city journalist in what Toure describes as a "very black, and very beautiful, and very powerful, and not ghetto and not crumbling, but really succeeding and doing it," town; with music, of course, playing a major role in all from the characters' cars (each has a different artists name and music attached) to how they pick their DJ/Mayor (by genre).
The main character, Cadillac, seems to parallel Toure himself, and though authors often write what they know, Toure likes to start with a blank page. "It's not me, but you go make him winkingly like me so you kind of laugh. But it's not me. Like when he meets a beautiful girl, he's nervous to talk to her. You know, that's not me," he jokes.
Still, fiction is only one outlet for Toure's creativity. He still has a significant role in what his website bio describes as "expanding the complexity of the discussion of black people."
"Part of the reason why I do a lot of things is 'cause I see we are influencing a lot of people to think about things," he explains. "I like to be the one doing that, because I think most of the time I get it right."
Toure feels that his non-fiction writing helps forward his cultural movement, but admits that his job doesn't lack perks. "Eminem is the biggest, or one of the biggest stars in America right now. I get to go out and interview with him," he explains. "When Beyonce is on top of the mountain, they call me and I go out there and talk to her, or D'Angleo, or whoever. I love the Almost Famous experience of being in the face of people who are on top of the little fame mountain for the moment."
The lesson? You can be a terrible intern, but if you want to be a writer you still have to work damn hard to make yourself successful. If you happen to piss off a few people on the way, then, well -- you're on the right track.
Meet Toure and hear him talk about his career and his new novel at the Kelly Writer's House on Thurs. Nov. 4. 6 p.m.