With 13 years of blogging under her collection of pumps, award-winning writer, pop culture critic, and professional troublemaker Luvvie Ajayi describes herself as one who “often says what you’re thinking but dared not to because you have a filter and a job to protect.”
Often mixing humor with political, social, and cultural commentary, she first began blogging as a hobby. Since then, she has expanded her platform to include multiple blogs (Awesomely Luvvie, Awesomely Techie), presenting and moderating a host of panels and most recently, completing her first book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. Told through four sections (Life, Culture, Media, and Fame), topics in the book span from terrible friends (“like those who only call you when they need help”) to a chapter on bad relationships. The Jeli recently spoke with Luvvie to get her impressions on her first book, authenticity in writing and storytelling, celebrities, and everything in between.
The Jeli: After blogging for 13 years, can you tell us a little about your evolution, from the beginning to writing a book?
Luvvie: When I first started blogging it was purely a hobby. Of course as a blogger, as a person you’re supposed to evolve over time. My writing has evolved with me. Now I write about race and culture more than ever before.
The Jeli: Can you give us an idea about the book, from concept to execution?
Luvvie: I got my idea in 2014 to write this book and I never really made any moves on it. I got a call from this agent who contacted me in October of that year and I signed on with him. I started writing my proposal in December 2014 and I finished my proposal in February (2015). We started shopping it out and I got my book deal in March. I wrote the book in 5 months and I was very clear about what I wanted to say. So I wrote it in 6 countries and 4 continents.
The Jeli: How did you come up with the name?
Luvvie: It’s just a phrase when someone does something ridiculous and someone says “I’m judging you” and I thought it perfectly encapsulated my content.
The Jeli: What has been your biggest challenge in publishing your own book and how did you overcome it?
Luvvie: Not psyching yourself out so you can write an entire book. The concept of writing a book can seem scary because you look at it as this big project. Like this big mountain you can’t climb. And that can keep you from doing the work. But it’s just pushing past it and writing anyway.
The Jeli: Why do you think the world is ready for “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual”?
Luvvie: I think we’re living in contentious times, and it really important for the conscience of the world. So this book is the shoulder that is [propping] you to do better. I think it’s timely and timeless.
The Jeli: Where do you see your book having the most impact and what influence do you hope it’ll have?
Luvvie: I hope my book starts some conversations about how we can leave the world better than we found it and be better to each other. I hope this is a book that people are like: “Oh my gosh you have to read.” I hope this book makes people laugh while they’re absorbing this.
The Jeli: What do you think is our biggest cultural obsession and why?
Luvvie: I think it’s celebrities and their lives. Their shenanigans end up taking up time in the news. I think it’s because we put celebrities on a platform. We want to know what their life is like and we eat up all the information we want to hear. We want to know what our favorite celebrities are doing, who they’re dating, the conflicts in their lives. We’re quite fame obsessed.
The Jeli: Where do you think that stems from?
Luvvie: I think a lot of people wish they were famous themselves. Also, because we’re nosy and we want to see other people’s mistakes to feel slightly better about ours.
The Jeli: How has social media changed the way we tell stories?
Luvvie: And talk about [ourselves]? Social media has made it easier. Anybody can tell their stories. It’s made it to where you don’t have to be a journalist to have an audience or a platform. It’s also made it to where everybody has an audience. There’s a lot of noise online…you kinda have to sift through it. I think social media sometimes makes it feel like we’re all on a reality TV show…so sometimes we perform our lives. I actually have a chapter about that in how social media has changed how we live because now we’re all about validation.
The Jeli: In the news there’s a lot of talk about plagiarism. As a storyteller, what does authenticity mean to you, and how can we emphasize its importance in our narratives?
Luvvie: Authenticity is just being true to your voice. Speaking truth to power. It means you’re not trying to imitate anyone else’s voice. It means you’re standing in your own and you’re creating words that are from your own mind. We all take inspiration from somewhere but it’s about not crafting a voice based on someone else’s. That’s authenticity. You are yourself. I think it’s important to storytelling because we don’t need every story to sound like it came from the same story. It’s writing in the voice that is true to them.
The Jeli: In a recent video series, you described yourself as being from Chicago by way of Nigeria. How does that identity influence your writing?
Luvvie: My Nigerianess informs everything I am. Humor is sometimes cultural and who I am is very much influenced by my Nigerian-ness, so of course it’s a part of my writing. I use Nigerian slang in my writing; I talk about my perspective around race based on the fact that I was born in Nigeria and never really had a concept of race or [the distinction of being] “black” until I came here, because everyone there is black. Being Nigerian informs all parts of my life.
The Jeli: In reading your blog and listening to your speeches, it sounds like there is an intersection where art and the ability to tell stories meets activism. So my question is threefold: How would you define storytelling? How would you define activism? And how would define where the two meet?
Luvvie: Storytelling is just sharing your experience. It’s sharing your world with people. I’ll go with that. And activism is working on making the world better. Where they meet for me [is me using] my humor to educate people about what’s happening in the world.
The Jeli: Who would you say your favorite author is?
Luvvie: I don’t know if I have one favorite. I like different genres. I have favorite books more than favorite authors, to be honest. My favorite books would be Toni Morrison’s Sula, Angela Nissel’s The Broke Diaries, and I love the Harry Potter series.
The Jeli: You recently moderated a panel at The United State of Women conference in which you asked panelists, [paraphrased] “where do you see the most innovation in storytelling?” How would you answer that question?
Luvvie: I just think black people are amazing storytellers, so there hasn’t ever been a time in history that [they] haven’t been incredible in storytelling. We’ve created worlds, sustained and brought on culture from stories. We tell stories through music, we tell stories with our hair. It’s something we excel at.