University of Arkansas at Little Rock alumna Shanelle Genai has soared to great heights in the entertainment world as a well-known celebrity writer.
A 2018 graduate of UA Little Rock’s School of Mass Communication, Genai is a successful entertainment and featured writer who has made her mark as an established and creative voice in the industry.
“I’ve been writing since I was sitting in a chair, according to my mom,” Genai said. “She would put me in front of the TV, talk to me, give me a piece of paper and I would scribble all day. To hear her tell it, I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. Writing professionally is something I’ve been stuck on. I had a professor my sophomore year at Pulaski Tech who encouraged me to pursue writing as a career after I did an essay.”
While she was studying at UA Little Rock, Genai was already hard at work building a freelance writing career. She began writing articles for a website called Blavity, a black-owned media technology company and online magazine.
“When the fall came around, there was an online magazine called xoNecole that I really admired,” Genai said. “I befriended a guy on a popular TV show on social media and we connected organically. This was Jean Elie in a TV show called ‘Insecure’. I was taking fiction writing classes at UA Little Rock. By the time I got up the courage to ask if he wanted to sit down for an interview, he said yes. I applied everything I learned in school to my interview. That was the jumping off point and everything else came from there.”
Genai would spend any free time she had between classes and homework searching the Internet for celebrity contact information, securing interviews, and researching her next writing assignment.
“I was creating those opportunities for myself and I wasn’t scared about it,” she said. “I was grateful that the people who interviewed me and my platform took a chance on me, and that’s always something I’ll appreciate.”
In 2022, Genai moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the action. She currently works as an entertainment writer for The Root, a digital media outlet that provides thought-provoking and entertaining commentary and news from a variety of black perspectives. In addition to her work at The Root, she has been featured in other publications and platforms such as BBC, MSNBC, ESSENCE Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Revolt, and more.
She credits the support of her mother, Natasha Jones, as a major source of inspiration for her successful writing career.
“She is the most instrumental force and influence I have in my life,” Genai said. “She has always believed in my talent and my potential. She always believed that I was destined for something great.”
Genai has already interviewed more famous people than most will ever meet in their lifetime. Some of her most notable interviews include Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, Quinta Brunson, and Mahershala Ali, among others.
“Obviously, Oprah Winfrey is No. 1. I can’t believe I interviewed the queen of interviews,” Genai said. “Jonathan Majors was also a nice interview. When I interviewed Samuel L. Jackson, I was really nervous and he was funny. Issa Rae was the best. She’s probably one of the people I’m most excited to interview or talk to. I’ve interviewed her three times now, and each time I think she’s more amazing.”
Her favorite interviews have also included chatting with actors Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall about their film, “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul,” and James Samuel, who directed a 2021 Netflix film called “The The Harder They Fall”.
Genai plans to capitalize on her entertainment writing experience. Her five-year plan includes transitioning to a screenwriter for TV and film.
“I’ve always loved television and film,” she said. “I’ve had a bunch of ideas since I was a kid. For me, that’s the next natural progression of things.”
Genai is also working to advance media careers for black women. In 2022, she founded Thee Media Mavens, a collective of Black Women professionals in various creative industries, and hosted nearly 100 women for the inaugural Thee Media Mavens x ESSENCEFest Takeover, sponsored by VH1.
The whole initiative started when Genai shared a tweet expressing her excitement about participating in the ESSENCE Culture Festival, an annual festival that combines high-octane musical performances with inspirational speakers and conversations about gender, race, culture and the arts.
“It’s a smorgasbord of good things happening in New Orleans,” she said. “In March, they released the lineup. I sent out a tweet saying it would be great if all of us media girls could get together and meet for brunch and a photo shoot. I sent the tweet and thought nothing of it. When I returned, the tweet was going viral. I am not the type of person to say things and not take action. Luckily, VH1 and MTV teamed up with me and we hosted about 100 women for the event. It was a fantastic moment.”
When asked what advice he would give to students who want to be successful writers, Genai said that they should focus on the type of writing they want to do, be it television, film, entertainment, news, sports, food, etc.
“You can figure out what your zone is, go for it and be proactive,” Genai said. “A lot of people think it’s going to happen if it’s supposed to happen, but you have to be proactive. You have to actively look for opportunities and put yourself out there.”
Genai says she spent her early writing days writing blog posts, serving as a guest writer for those who would seek her services, and taking on any assignments she could get to build her portfolio.
“Students need to be proactive on a multitude of fronts so they can pursue the path they want to pursue.”