39-year-old writer returns to hit the books

Since leaving Brown in 1990, Scott Poulson-Bryant ’08 helped found VIBE Magazine, wrote for prominent publications like the New York Times and the Village Voice, interviewed Prince and Beyonce Knowles and sold two books. Yet, for the 39-year-old journalist and author, something still seemed to be missing.

“There was a part of me that felt sort of unfinished,” he said.

As an aspiring writer who was eager to make it in New York City as soon as he could, he left Brown in the fall of 1990 before completing his bachelor’s degree. Now in his first semester back, Poulson-Bryant is getting closer to finally achieving his goal of graduating from Brown.

But that’s not to say that Poulson-Bryant regrets the decision he made 17 years ago. After leaving Brown, Poulson-Bryant built up quite an impressive resume. After paying his dues at an entry-level job at the Village Voice, he was hired by Spin as the first black staff writer at a major music magazine.

In 1992, he received a call from music impresario Quincy Jones about an up-and-coming urban magazine, then called Volume. Only in his mid-20s, Poulson-Bryant became one of the founding editors of the magazine and renamed the publication VIBE.

After leaving the magazine as a senior editor in 1997, he freelanced for several publications. He also worked for the hip-hop magazine America and participated in a dot-com business that eventually went bankrupt.

In between his various jobs, he also found time to publish two books, including the critically-acclaimed “Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America,” a 2005 book discussing the myths of the sexuality of black men.

It was during a book tour for “Hung” that the idea of returning to school came to him. He visited a number of universities for publicity, including Duke University, Howard University and the University of Southern California.

“I was back in a college environment and I was really enjoying speaking to students about writing and about culture. I thought, ‘You know, I feel like I could do this. Maybe I could be a professor after 16 years as a journalist,’” he said.

But to do that, Poulson-Bryant had to get his bachelor’s degree first. After contemplating his return to school over and over again, he finally wrote a letter to Brown about finishing up his concentration in American Civilization. Within a few months, he received a response saying that he could return.

After revealing his decision to others, the reactions were mixed.

When telling friends who were Brown alums, they were ecstatic and perhaps a bit jealous of the chance to go back to Brown.

Others, though, questioned his decision. “A lot of my friends said, ‘You have a career, you’ve done a lot of great, successful things. Why go back to college?’ ” he said.

But Poulson-Bryant’s decision seemed fairly clear to him.

“It’s partly the idea of a career change. I’ve been a journalist for so long that I’ve wanted to parlay that into another kind of career,” he said.

In addition, Poulson-Bryant wanted a chance to get out of his home state of New York for a little while. “Don’t get me wrong, I love New York, but I thought it would be nice to get out and be in Providence for a year.”

Yet even with his decision, Poulson-Bryant still had a bit of anxiety over his return for several reasons.

For one, Poulson-Bryant still holds down a full-time job with GIANT Magazine in New York, where he is the editorial director. He does most of his work via e-mail, but he has been to New York so many times this semester that he has begun to lose count.

He recently sold his first novel to a publisher, and he’s still working on a draft that should be done by the end of the year.

And on top of that, he’s taking four classes.

“I don’t know what I was thinking that I could come to school full time for a year and continue my full-time job in New York,” he said with a laugh.

Another particularly big concern was that he would “stick out like a sore thumb.”

“I was going to be the old man. You know, this late-30s guy among all these 20-year-olds,” he said. “I felt a little like I would be completely out of place.”

As soon as he got back into school, however, he realized that his concerns were largely unfounded. At first, some of his classmates gave him odd looks and thought he was a teacher’s assistant. But he soon met a number of friends in his classes and found that professors were understanding about his situation – he was balancing a full course-load and a job in another city.

“He probably had more anxiety about (the transition) than he needed to. He had plenty of experience because he knew Brown as a place. I think he had a lot more experience to count on than he thought he did, and he made the transition fairly smoothly,” said Samuel Zipp, an assistant professor of American Civilization who teaches Poulson-Bryant in a seminar.

But there are still times when all his commitments can be overly taxing. At one point during the semester, his workload was so heavy – GIANT was finishing up an issue and he was busy with midterms – that he was getting only two hours of sleep a night and falling asleep in the carrels of the Rockefeller Library.

Still, Poulson-Bryant is dedicated to doing well in his classes, and his professors have recognized this passion. Elliot Gorn, professor of history, noticed that this is the case for many students who return to school after years of being elsewhere.

“They’re not here because their parents told them to be here. They’re here because they want to be here,” Gorn said.

“If anything, he’s more ready to do the kind of work he needs to do here than a regular college student. He knows what he wants to do and why he’s here,” Zipp said.

With his first semester back quickly coming to a close, Poulson-Bryant is looking at various Ph.D. and graduate programs. He’s still unsure if he’ll have time to apply to all the programs this school year – he already has enough on his plate – but for now, he seems content with receiving is diploma in the spring.

“I tend to be a finisher, and this was one part of my life that I hadn’t yet closed,” he said.