Edward Lewis

Since co-founding Essence magazine, Edward Lewis has become one of the most successful and respected magazine publishers in the country.


Edward Lewis was born on May 15, 1940, in the Bronx, New York. In 1969, he co-founded Essence magazine, specifically targeted to black women. Propelled by the extraordinary success of Essence, he has become one of the most successful and respected magazine publishers in the country. In 1995, he also founded Latina magazine.

Early Life

Publisher and entrepreneur Edward Lewis was born on May 15, 1940, in the Bronx, New York. He grew up impoverished in the projects of the South Bronx, a neighborhood plagued at the time by drug addiction and violence. Nevertheless, Lewis's parents—his father a night shift janitor at City College and his mother a factory worker—instilled in him a strong work ethic and desire to succeed.

Lewis attended De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he excelled academically and was a star fullback on the football team. Upon graduating from high school in 1958, he earned a football scholarship to the University of New Mexico.

Edward Lewis very nearly did not make it to New Mexico alive. The cross-country flight on TWA airlines was the first Lewis had ever boarded and it was nearly his last: An engine caught fire in midair and passengers began bracing themselves for death. "I knew that my life was over," Lewis later recalled, "and I had another fellow sitting next to me, and we held hands. We were reading the Bible because we knew that was it." But it wasn't. The plane made a miraculously safe emergency landing and Lewis arrived safely in New Mexico after all.


Upon beginning his studies that fall, Edward Lewis discovered that he was one of exactly 12 black students on a campus of more than 8,000. "There's certainly loneliness, but you have to adjust, you have to adapt," he said. "And my adapting revolved around meeting some really, really wonderful people who became my friends and enabled me to continue to grow and to do well there."

Attending college at the height of the American civil rights movement, Lewis studied the teachings of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and grew outspoken in his demands for racial equality. This expression of what the university perceived as Lewis' "radicalism" resulted in the loss of his football scholarship during his sophomore year. Lewis was outraged but decided to stay in school anyway.

He later recalled a friend counseling him, "If you stay in school you may be able to have even greater impact with regard to what goes on in your community." Edward Lewis graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations in 1964.

Birth of 'Essence'

A year later, in 1965, Lewis landed a job as a financial analyst at First National City Bank in New York City. Lewis was steadily rising through the ranks at the bank, on track to become a loan officer, when in 1968 he attended a conference on blacks in the business world. He met many other ambitious young African-American professionals at the conference, leaving with a newfound determination to start his own uniquely black business.

A year later, Lewis, along with another young black businessman from the Bronx, Clarence O. Smith, founded Essence magazine, a magazine specifically targeted to black women. Lewis explained his vision for Essence: "We just had this desire to bring something into the world that black women could feel good about—to give hope, to provide jobs, to provide a voice for black women … to begin to see their voices, to begin to see themselves in the pages of a magazine that they could call their own." The first issue of Essence was published in May 1970 with a modest print run of 50,000 copies. Since then, Essence has grown into what the New York Times called the "pre-eminent voice for black women," with a readership of more than 7.5 million.

Business Success

Propelled by the extraordinary success of Essence, Lewis has become one of the most successful and respected magazine publishers in the country. Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, he expanded Essence Communications to include a weekly television show, fashion line and mail order catalogue, as well as an annual awards show and music festival.

In 1995, Lewis also founded Latina magazine, a bilingual publication geared toward Hispanic women. In honor of his remarkable success, in 1997 Lewis became the first black chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America (now known as the Association of Magazine Media), the industry's premier trade association representing over 700 publications.

Edward Lewis is one of the premier publishers and entrepreneurs of his generation and a pioneer in the field of minority journalism. He has been invited to the White House to consult with President Bill Clinton and counts such other luminaries as Bill Cosby and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins among his close friends.

Nevertheless, Lewis is not satisfied with his success so far in life. "I want to be like Time Warner," he said. "If Time Warner can employ over 30,000 people, I want Essence Communications to employ over 30,000 people." He added, "We've come a long way. We've got a long way to go."

Lewis married Carolyn Wright, a speech pathologist, in 1991.

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