Ijeoma Oluo is arguably one of the freshest and most insightful writers on race today. In her first book, So You Want to Talk About Race, she examined America's racial landscape. In a starred review, PW called her follow-up, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, “an essential reckoning with race, sex, and power in America.”
Now Oluo is working on Be a Revolution (HarperOne, 2022). In it, she says, she will focus on “people who are doing absolutely amazing work, looking at issues on immigration, food production, hospitality, local governance, and of course, policing.”
Born in Texas to a Nigerian father and a white mother, Oluo moved to Seattle with her mother after her father moved back to Africa. Although she grew up in poverty, she was able to take advanced courses in high school and was an avid reader. “Toni Morrison was a woman who got to have their whole humanity in books, and made space for trauma in a way that wasn’t trauma porn,” Oluo says. “Kurt Vonnegut was someone in love with the potential of humanity and always disappointed, and yet still, wrote about humanity, like it could be something better. And when I first started reading Lorraine Hansberry, I saw someone like me, and I realized I could write.”
Oluo graduated from Western Washington University in 2007 with a degree in political science. A single mixed-race mother working in corporate America, her writing was fueled by the racism she faced, and the refusal to acknowledge it. “I couldn’t get anyone to talk about it,” she says. “So that’s really why I started writing in the first place: to get people to do the work, to actively engage with systems of oppression to make change.”
Although Oluo often gets pushback to her work, including death threats, she is careful to maintain peace of mind and a sense of joy in her life. “What keeps me going is I have to remember to give myself permission to embrace every little victory, every smile, every bit of laughter,” she explains. “It’s a requirement of this struggle, that we do so, because every time we do, we are asserting our value.”
Oluo will be in conversation with Rakesh Satyal, the editor of Be a Revolution, on Wednesday, May 26, 10:15–10:45 a.m. ET.
Eugene Holley Jr. has written about music, science, and literature for three decades.