Torrence Banks, Managing Editor
A conversation between former Vogue magazine editor-at-large André Leon Talley and Morehouse Psychology Professor David Wall Rice will be the highlight of Thursday’s Homecoming Crown Forum. During the conversation, Talley will discuss the responsibility of black artists, how other creatives inspire his work and the importance of knowledge.
Rice was familiar with Talley due to his presence in popular culture. However, Rice recently gained an enhanced appreciation for Talley’s work after being impressed by his documentary “The Gospel According to André.” Rice especially could relate with Talley’s history.
“I saw his documentary and was just really appreciative of it and moved by it,” Rice said. “I didn’t know his history. And so his history is one that parallels many of ours who come out of black Southern culture. I was born in Washington, D.C., lived in L.A. but went to high school in Texas. My parents are from Virginia and Washington, D.C., so those Southern roots resonate well with me.”
At the end of the documentary, Talley had a conversation with Morehouse College alum Rev. Calvin Butts and dedicated one of his books to Butts. Rice decided to reach out to Butts to see if he could put Rice in contact with Talley’s representative to ask if he would be interested in participating in a Crown Forum discussion.
“I reached out to him and I said, ‘I don’t mean to be out of line here, but if you could put me in contact with Mr. Talley, or with his representative, I’d like to talk to them for a Crown Forum conversation,’ ” Rice said.
Talley was the first African-American man to be the creative director of Vogue magazine. With this position, he understood that he had a responsibility to show that he belonged.
“Why am I sitting on the front row, this African-American man, why is he sitting there?” Talley wondered. “And I had to set the example through my writing, through my bylines that I deserve to be in that position, as the Paris fashion editor at Women’s Wear Daily. I deserve to be at Vogue as the first African-American male ever to be named creative director of American Vogue.”
During the conversation, Rice asked Talley if he believed that black artists had a responsibility to protect their community. Some view an artist like Kanye West as very gifted, but also view him as a threat to the African-American community due to some of his statements and his support of President Donald Trump. Talley agreed that black artists have a responsibility, but also suggested that West may not be able to control what he does.
“I would say, yes, we have to be held accountable,” Talley said. “We have to be responsible artists or writers. I would say yes, you are completely correct.
“He cannot be held accountable. We must pray for him. I always say Mr. West needs prayer. People need to pray for each other. When you see Mr. West, in the Trump Oval Office. When you see Mr. West running for president, when you see Mr. West, lashing out at his wife in public and crying, you have to pray for this man.”
As a young Paris fashion editor, Talley had unwavering confidence. His confidence was due to his faith and his preparation.
“I know people gravitated to me because I knew what I was talking about,” Talley said. “As I always said, ‘Do your homework,’ and I would not open my mouth unless I knew what I was talking about.”
Talley has two degrees in French literature: a bachelor’s from North Carolina Central University and a master’s from Brown University. His work is inspired by the literature from African-American writers like James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Frederick Douglass. These great writers have provided him with wisdom, and artists like Kara Walker have also inspired Talley.
Talley said that Baldwin’s literature “helps to give me the anchor to sustain everything that I must go through to survive in the world of fashion, in the world as a black man, in the world as a black educated man.
“My power comes from the knowledge of these cultures, these systems or these strategies of the 18th century of North African literature. That is where my power comes from. From living and having read and having been able to explain and express the power of the spoken and written world in artistic people, such as Kara Walker, gives me the power to have a place in the world of fashion that is unique.”
Rice believes that this conversation is important for today’s social climate because of how strongly Talley values black literature. Talley shows how power can come from connecting to the black lived experience that authors like Baldwin discuss in their writing. Rice was also impressed with how Talley has handled pain throughout his life.
“He talks about a lot of pain that he’s gone through, but he does not center or privilege that pain,” Rice said. “And what I mean by that is it’s not ignored, but he does not allow for it to overtake the positives. What he centers are the positives, and he might have had more painful moments than he did positives. But what he does is he puts at the center his faith, his strength through faith and his example through family.”
From this conversation, Rice hopes that students learn that there are many types of black innovators. Often, people only see the surface lifestyle of entertainers. Watching this conversation gives students an opportunity to see the thoughts that influence an entertainer’s work.
“What’s easily gotten from people who are within entertainment spaces is kind of this surface understanding of who they are, and not the depth of experience and of knowledge that folks have, because oftentimes, they just make it look so easy,” Rice said.
“So, I think that he presents as an archetype of someone that we could have taken for granted and could have understood as just being somebody who did fashion. But [people need] to look at what fashion means and how it is that it frames society and culture, and the depth of what it is that he has to offer.”
The full conversation between Talley and Rice can be viewed below: