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Alumna focuses on inspirational artist for her first book

Arianna Davis ('09)

Arianna Davis headshot
Arianna Davis is the digital director of O, The Oprah Magazine.

(Story originally published in The Daily Collegian. Reprinted with permission.)

Arianna Davis has been fascinated by Frida Kahlo’s art and life story since she saw the movie “Frida” in high school.

Now, Davis has released a book inspired by the Mexican artist titled “What Would Frida Do?: A Guide To Living Boldly.”

Davis, who earned her journalism degree in 2009, said she thinks readers can learn and take inspiration from stories of women and women of color who broke barriers to overcome life obstacles like Kahlo.

“I think that now with the newer generation, [Kahlo] has kind of taken on a new life, especially with social media,” Davis said. “There’s people who post her quotes, or post images of her, or post her art, but they don’t necessarily know her story.”

Davis said she learned a lot about writing and editing while at Penn State, and her professors consistently encouraged her.

“[My professors] made me feel that I was a strong writer and that I could actually go after this dream that I had of being a journalist and an author,” Davis said.

Arianna Davis book cover

At Penn State, Davis was a lifestyle reporter for The Daily Collegian during her sophomore and junior year. During her senior year, she started as managing editor for Valley Magazine and worked as editor-in-chief her last semester.

Marie Hardin, the dean of the Bellisario College of Communications, was one of Davis’ professors. Davis took a copy editing class with Hardin and also participated in an internship program.

“Arianna was a go-getter, so any time that she realized she was struggling with something, she would ask for extra work to improve,” Hardin said. “I can remember working with her one-on-one to help improve her editing skills.”

Hardin said she has already pre-ordered a copy of Davis’s book.

“I’m hoping to get her autograph next time I see her,” Hardin said. “She’s a superstar, and I’m so proud of her.”

Bob Martin, the assistant dean for internships and career placement in the Bellisario College, hosted Davis as a guest speaker recently for a collegewide talk on maximizing social media engagement.

“She is fantastic,” Martin said. “She always goes the extra mile for students, and she’s always volunteering.”

Martin said he is looking forward to reading her book.

“She is absolutely tremendous,” Martin said.

Davis is now the digital director of O, The Oprah Magazine. She said she oversees all things digital, including the stories that go on the website and social media platforms.

In her professional career, Davis also had the opportunity to interview Oprah and Hillary Clinton.

“Throughout my career, I’ve gotten to write and edit, and now assign, stories that I think are really meaningful, particularly to women and women of color, which I think we really need during these times right now.”

Arianna Davis

The process of writing her book happened “a little bit backwards” for Davis. Her publisher, Seal Press, reached out to her first when they had the idea to publish a book inspired by Frida Kahlo.

“They actually had heard through the grapevine through an old coworker of mine at Refinery29 that I was Frida Kahlo-obsessed,” Davis said.

Seal Press then reached out to Davis to gauge her interest in writing a book about Kahlo. Davis said she immediately agreed, because it sounded like “a dream project.”

In spring 2019, Davis said “everything came together,” and she spent the next eight or nine months researching and writing the book.

During those months, Davis spent some time in Mexico City to study and go to La Casa Azul — Kahlo’s house that has now been turned into a museum.

“I stayed in the neighborhood Coyoacán, where she grew up,” Davis said. “I just kind of tried to see Mexico City through her eyes, and I got a lot of writing and research done while I was there, so that was super cool.”

With a demanding day job running the Oprah Magazine website, Davis said she was “a little unsure” that she would be able to write a book at the same time.

“I think it taught me that if you’re really passionate about something, and it’s something that you really want to do, you’ll find the time and make it work,” Davis said.

Even though it was “tough” and there were moments she felt “very overwhelmed,” Davis set aside time after work and during the weekends to write.

Every chapter in the book is about a different topic — including chapters on creativity, friendship, heartbreak, identity and love.

The book also includes illustrations of Kahlo and quotes she is famous for that are relevant to the different themes of each chapter.

“I’m most excited just to have this book out in the world,” Davis said. “Obviously with COVID, things are happening a little differently than I expected; now everything is virtual, so I am a little sad that there is not going to be a big, fun book signing event.”

Davis said her experience has been “so incredible,” and she has already been getting “amazing feedback” from people who have read early copies.

For Davis, having a book published is something she has been dreaming about since she was a kid.

“I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, so the fact that my first book is going to be out in the world feels honestly like a dream,” Davis said. “I hope that people who will get to read it will take a little bit of inspiration from ‘What Would Frida Do?’”