Star-quality journalist

Toure interviews the A-list celebrities for high-profile newspapers and magazines

September 22, 2005|By Donna M. Owens | Donna M. Owens,special to the sun

When Toure answers his line in Brooklyn with an easy, laid-back "hey," you immediately feel at ease. It's the same vibe that gives him access to such celebrities as Eminem and Jay-Z, who've let him slip into their worlds, take a peek, then take readers along for the written joyride.

Over the past decade or so, the 34-year-old journalist, author and cultural critic - known by his first name only - has gained a following covering music, all things hip-hop and American pop culture for many of the nation's best-known media outlets.

A contributing editor at Rolling Stone, Toure has written cover profiles of Eminem, 50 Cent and Alicia Keys; weighed in on the Oscars and the Michael Jackson trial for CNN, MTV and VH1; written about the rich and famous for The New York Times, ELLE, The New Yorker and beyond.

His assignments are often of the pinch-me-I'm-dreaming variety: shooting hoops with Prince, hanging out with Beyonce in Cannes, playing high-stakes poker with Jay-Z at the Trump International.

"I like to keep it casual, very relaxed," says Toure of his celebrity interviews, which are always taped. "Light conversation, a nice chat. I tell myself, `This is just a person.'

"But I don't think you should completely get rid of that `star-struck' quality," he adds. "You have to see the celebrity as the readers do. They want to imagine themselves in his or her world."

With his free-flowing Afro, funky style and photogenic looks, Toure has star quality to rival the folks he interviews. The exotic name may have something to do with that: Given by his parents at birth, West African in origin, it's not easily defined but is "royal-esque," he says.

A native of Boston, Toure grew up loving books. He attended prep school, then a university he doesn't like to mention, launching a campus newspaper that was political and "kinda nationalist in tone."

"I have always wanted to express myself," he explains.

After college, he landed an internship at Rolling Stone. Yet his big break nearly went awry after he got fired for shirking his duties. Eventually, the magazine gave him a second chance to write a record review.

More freelance work followed, though his career was full of starving-artist moments familiar to New York writers.

"The first three or four years was hard," he acknowledges. "But it has not been a hustle for a long time."

These days, there is more than enough work to keep him busy. Toure, who attended Columbia University's graduate creative writing program, has written two books and is finishing a third.

His first was a well-received story collection, The Portable Promised Land. This month brought the debut of his first novel, SOUL CITY (Picador, $12), experimental fiction about a groovy utopia complete with a 100-foot-tall Afro-Pik that graces the town.

Voted one of the "Outstanding Books of the Year" by the New York Public Library, the work has won praise from Publishers Weekly, Black Issues Book Review and such authors as Tom Wolfe and Terry McMillan, who called Toure "a smart, edgy, risk-taking young writer."

In March, Picador will also publish a book of his essays, Never Drank the Kool-Aid. It is described as an "unparalleled journey through the American funhouse we call pop culture" - something that few have experienced quite as Toure has.

Yet despite - or maybe because of - his proximity to celebrity, it seems this hard-working scribe manages to stay relatively grounded.

"For your work to have relevance, you have to live in the real world," he says.

Toure will appear at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Literary Salon.

Baltimore Book Festival

What:

The 10th annual event celebrating everything literary about the region.

When:

5 p.m.-9 p.m. tomorrow and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where:

Mount Vernon Place

Admission:

Free; event takes place rain or shine

Transportation:

The nearest light rail stop is Centre Street. The nearest Metro stop is State Center.

Information:

baltimorebookfestival.com

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