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Karen Hunter never planned on starting her own publishing company. The former journalist started off covering sports and crime for the Daily News. Then, hoping to get free music CDs, she began writing music articles. According to thegrio.com, she interviewed Biggie Smalls before he became Notorious, and interviewed Faith Evans and Will Smith. But it was an interview with LL Cool J that changed her life and led her down the road to book publishing.
“I was in Long Island doing a piece on LL Cool J for a movie,” Hunter said to thegrio.com. “During the interview I asked if he’d ever done a book. He said he wanted to and added, ‘in fact I see myself on a cover, covered in hats, naked.’”
Hunter knew that LL Cool J’s book would be an easy sell. Although she acknowledges that at the time she had little knowledge on how to go about publishing, she went to St. Martin’s Press, and was able to secure a book deal for LL Cool J. It was her first attempt, and the rapper went on to write a New York Times best seller. Later, she worked with Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa. Although she helped all of these celebrities with book deals, Hunter dreamed of owning her own company.
“I didn’t have a lot of aunties and uncles I could call, asking ‘how do you start this publishing house,’” Hunter said to thegrio.com. “People running publishing companies don’t look like me. But I had the wherewithal to understand I had to know how publishing works from the inside. What makes this business work from the business side.”
In 2007, her dream was realized and she launched Karen Hunter’s Publishing. Most recently, she published Kris Jenner’s controversial memoir, “Kris Jenner . . . And All Things Kardashian.”
Hunter says that publishing celebrity memoirs pays her bills, but ultimately, she wants her work to represent more than entertainment. Next on her agenda, she will work with Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Ellison is an African American Muslim convert in a district where only one percent of the population is Muslim and 11 percent African American. She believes that this book is a “game changer,” that will bring understanding to what it means to be Muslim.
“I am very black and that means something to me,” she said to thegrio.com “Everything has its place, but… You have to have a vision for what you want to do. A hundred years after I’m dead, what will this line stand for? When you look at [Karen Hunter Publishing] and see the titles I did, I can rest on that. I made a contribution and it wasn’t ‘coonery.’ It wasn’t the typical fare of books, like we threw some books together because they were black.”
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Ever wonder what made Tavis Smiley the household media personality he is today? Denise Pines is the wonder woman behind the Tavis Smiley brand. She’s been his business partner for the past 15 years and used her skills as a marketer and financial planner to create a solid brand for The Smiley Group, Inc.
Pines has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and earned a master’s in international marketing from John F Kennedy University, and a master’s in finance from Stanford University. Aside from her career with Tavis Smiley, she previously worked in management at The Gap, AT&T, Neiman Marcus and Louis Vuitton.
She and Smiley met while exercising at Baldwin Hills and have been inseparable friends ever since.
“It was the one day of humidity, and we would start running and stop. At one point I stopped and he stopped. I asked a generic question about running, and he said he usually runs over at Dorsey, but decided to come here,” she told Los Angeles Wave.
“Even when he told me who he was, I didn’t believe him because a girlfriend [back in Oakland] had warned me about L.A. guys — they’ll tell you anything. But for the next two hours we talked and I just found him fascinating. I told him that I was interviewing for a [public relations] job at Pac Bell and he said he knows the vice president of the company and suggested I look him up in the phone book. Those were the days before cell phones and Twitter.”
About a week later, the two ran into each other again.
“Today we consider ourselves like Mutt and Jeff. We’ve had this great friendship that we’ve been able to turn into a business; I’m profit-driven and he’s completely the social activist, and about Black people 100 percent of the time. Even when he was flat broke and got a little money, he would tithe 10 percent of that,” she said.
Pines discloses that in the future, the Smiley Group hopes to grow the business and bring diversity to their Speakers Bureau by adding Latino and White women. They also hope to bring more Tavis Smiley specials to PBS.