University of Arkansas at Little Rock alumna Shanelle Genai has soared to great heights in the world of entertainment as a highly acclaimed celebrity writer.
A 2018 graduate of the UA Little Rock School of Mass Communication, Genai is a successful entertainment and features writer who has made her mark as an established voice and creative in the industry.
“I’ve been writing since I was sitting in a highchair, according to my mom,” Genai said. “She would place me in front of a 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 child. Writing professionally is something I stumbled into. I had a professor my sophomore year at Pulaski Tech who encouraged me to pursue writing as a career after I turned in 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 tech company, and an online magazine.
“When fall came, 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 organically connected. This was Jean Elie on a TV show called ‘Insecure.’ I was taking classes about feature writing at UA Little Rock. By the time I had the courage to ask if he wanted to sit down for an interview, he said yes. Everything I learned in school I applied to my interview. That was the jump off point, and everything else snowballed from there.”
Genai would spend any free time she had between classes and homework searching the internet for celebrity contact information, securing interviews, and looking for her next writing assignment.
“I was creating those opportunities for myself and not being shy about it,” she said. “I was grateful that the people who interviewed for me and my platform took a chance on me, and that is always something I will 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 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’s also been featured in other publications and platforms like the BBC, MSNBC, ESSENCE Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Revolt, and more.
She credits the support of her mom, Natasha Jones, as a major source of inspiration for her successful writing career.
“She is hands down the most instrumental force and influence I have in my life,” Genai said. “She has always believed in my talent and in my potential. She always believed I was destined for something great.”
Genai has already interviewed more famous people that most will ever meet in their lifetimes. Some of her more notable interviews include Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, Quinta Brunson, and Mahershala Ali, among others.
“Naturally, Oprah Winfrey is No. 1. I can’t believe I interviewed the queen of interviews,” Genai said. “Jonathan Majors was also an enjoyable interview. When I interviewed Samuel L. Jackson, I was really nervous, and he was funny. Issa Rae was the best. She is probably one of the people that I get most excited to interview or talk to. I’ve interviewed her three times now, and each time I think she is the most awesome.”
Her favorite interviews have also included speaking with actors Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall about their movie, “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul,” and Jeymes Samuel, who directed a 2021 Netflix film called “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 wealth 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 across various creative industries and hosted nearly 100 women for the inaugural Thee Media Mavens x ESSENCEFest Takeover, sponsored by VH1.
The entire initiative began when Genai shared a tweet expressing her excitement about attending the ESSENCE Festival of Culture, an annual festival that combines high-octane music performances with inspirational speakers and conversations about gender, race, culture, and art.
“It’s a smorgasbord of good things that happens in New Orleans,” she said. “In March, they released the lineup. I sent out a tweet that said it would be great if all of us media girls came together and met up for a brunch situation and take photos. I sent off the tweet and didn’t think anything after it. When I came back, the tweet was going viral. I’m not the type of person to say things and not take action. Luckily, VH1 and MTV partnered with me, and we hosted about 100 women for the event. It was an amazing moment.”
When asked what advice she would give to students who want to be successful writers, Genai said they should concentrate on what type of writing they want to do, whether that be television, film, entertainment, news, sports, food, etc.
“Figure out what your niche is, go for it, and be proactive,” Genai said. “A lot of people think it will 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 ask for her services, and taking on every assignment she could get her hands on to build up her portfolio.
“Students have to be proactive on a myriad of fronts so they can go down the path they want to go down.”