Keli Goff Talks Career Autonomy, Financial Security, and Social Change
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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You talked about having an interest in exploring the ‘people behind politics.’ How did you find yourself in a position to move from platform to platform as a writer?

I’ve really had a backwards career. I had an idea for a book and met someone at a party who introduced me to an agent. I landed a meeting with that agent and told them I had this idea for a book about generational differences between black Americans. It turned out that the agent I was introduced to, who became my first book agent, represented Martin Luther King’s estate. She had this profound interest in, not just civil rights, but the post-civil rights generation.  She signed me as a client and I started working on this book, where I interviewed everyone from Colin Powell and Russell Simmons to young black voters, and that became my first book— Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence.

Did you have a career strategy? 

My only strategy was that I wanted to have the freedom to do what I wanted to do.

So you wanted autonomy?

I wanted autonomy to tell the stories I was interested in telling, do the writing I wanted to do, and reach the audiences it was important for me to reach.

Career autonomy is certainly valuable, but autonomy often accompanies the loss of financial security that an institution or organization can provide. What are your thoughts on this? 

That’s a great question and an important one. The model that our parents relied on, which is ‘go work at one place and you know you’re good for at least thirty years,’ just doesn’t exist anymore; particularly in media. You kind of have to look out for yourself, carve your own pathway, and create your own journey. You do different kinds of writing because that’s the safest way to make sure that if one gig falls through, you’re OK for the next month. Every person I know is in some capacity a freelancer–whether its my friend Marc Lamont Hill, or others–they’re doing different types of writing because that’s the smartest, most efficient and financially doable way to be a writer today.

My day job is actually a part of what I love too.  I just wrote a column for The Daily Beast about Donald Trump’s comments about black America. Writing that was important for me. I’m in the middle of finishing a play, that I really need to finish. Yet it didn’t feel like I was taking away from the play to work on the column because saying what I wanted to say about that was important to me. I feel very blessed that my day job is a job that I also happen to enjoy, but that doesn’t mean they’re aren’t days where its hard–interviews aren’t coming together, the person cancels, etc.  All and all, I can say, in the past few years, I haven’t had to have a job that I hate–that’s emotionally draining–and that’s a real gift. When I first got this fellowship, one of our first speakers said, “Don’t have another job that drains your creativity from the job you actually love.” That’s really the key.

To learn more about Keli Goff visit, and be sure to catch the next season of Being Mary Jane on BET.

This article was written by Rebecca Nichloson

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