Successful Writer, Radio Commentator & Entrepreneur Kenji Jasper
At age 10 not only did Kenji Jasper know he was going to be a Writer, he also began his career. He worked as an anchorman at a local television show. At 12, he began interning at the Washington Informer. Not many people can claim the same, but then again, 31-year-old Kenji is not just anyone. He has worked for NPR as a radio commentator, taught in the classroom and written several novels. His first novel, “Dark,” made both the Washington Post and New York Times’ best seller lists, and was just optioned to be made into a film by Fox Searchlight Pictures. He also Founded his own company, Words Lines and Phrases, an editorial services firm that works with clients ranging from magazines and websites to individuals. Although he has excelled in many fields, writing still remains his passion. His love of story telling is the common thread that connects all of his endeavors. Learn more about Kenji and his many projects as we feature him in this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
Words Lines and Phrases
Brooklyn, New York
April 2004-June 2005
‘I Have A Dream’ Program/Banneker High School Writing Center
National Public Radio
June 2001-September 2005
Urban Box Office
Reviews Editor/News Editor/ Contributing Writer
December 1999-November 2000
Words Lines and Phrases
Senior Writer/ Editor
About the company
Words Lines and Phrases is an editorial services firm that works with clients ranging from magazines and websites to individual clients. We provide services in article writing, editing, screen and television writing, coaching, ghostwriting, photography and desktop publishing
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I acquire clients and serve as the lead executor of all writing services, occasionally hiring contractors for additional work that I can’t perform due to my schedule as an author.
I head the editorial and creative services company. I also wrote press-kit materials and artist biographies for LaFace Records and Rawkus Records. I drafted articles and reviews for various publications including: The Village Voice, Essence, Newsday, VIBE, XXL, Savoy, KING and Amazon.com
Most notable milestones
My first novel, “Dark” made the Washington Post and New York Times Bestsellers lists.
Essence magazine noted me as a writer to watch
My first novel, “Dark,” was optioned to be made into a film for Fox Searchlight Pictures
What’s the niche?
I consider myself to be one of the only authors who has come out of the hip hop generation that knows how to represent urban reality in literature in a way that is palatable to both those who exist within the culture as well as those outside of it.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Well, working as a writer becomes more and more challenging as we live in a society that is more conscious of images than the works behind them. The reading public continues to diminish as the number of cable channels, online outlets and interactive entities increase. So you have to find new ways to work within this revolution while maintaining the strength of your craft in all that you do.
What’s in store for the future?
I hope to adapt all of my novels: “Dark,” “Dakota Grand,” “Seeking Salamanca Mitchell” and “Snow” for the screen. I also plan to focus my creative efforts into selling a few television pilots in hopes that one or two might become successful television shows. I would also like to expand my ghostwriting business. So if there’s anyone out there who needs a book written, or needs help getting their book or other project written, Words Lines and Phrases is here for you. We’ve most recently been contacted about working on a memoir that centers around the life of the late Anna Nicole Smith.
What are examples of some of the things you’ve done as a writer or as an instructor?
As an author, I have written three novels: “Dark,” an LA Times and Washington Post bestseller (2001), “Dakota Grand” (2002), “Seeking Salamanca Mitchell” (2004), the memoir, “The House on Childress Street” (January 2006), the novella “Snow” (February 2007) and “Beats, Rhymes and Life,” a forthcoming anthology of nonfiction writings on hip-hop culture(May 2007).
At the Bedford-Stuyvesant “I Have a Dream” Program and the Banneker High School writing center, I assisted high school students with assignments relating to the English language, prepared students for the college application process, and taught writing skills.
Also, as an instructor, I teach classes and workshops on a variety of topics ranging from software applications to creative writing. I have been contracted by Spelman College and The Katharine Gibbs School among others.
As a Radio Commentator on NPR, I regularly wrote and contributed personal essays and commentaries to both “All Things Considered: Morning Edition” and “The Tavis Smiley Show,” two key programs on National Public Radio. I also serve as guest host for WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show”
At Urban Box Office, I composed daily news briefs, assigned and edited articles, established relationships with record label and film company publicity departments and contributed feature articles for site content.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Know your market. If you keep constant tabs on what your clients are looking for and how to meet their needs then you know how to speak their language. Speaking their language makes them feel at home with you. And we all know that when it comes to this life there’s no place like home.
Guiding principle in life
I believe in having faith, honor and determination. If you really want to hit the mark with your life’s aspirations you also need to trust your gut every step of the way.
Yardstick of success
My yardstick for success is my reputation. Both clients and readers look to me as someone that will give them work that is both well-crafted and seductive in nature. That’s what I’ve always wanted to achieve with my writing and thus I consider myself a success.
Goal yet to be achieved
I have yet to see something I’ve written appear on the big or small screen, but I’m working on it
Best practical advice
If you’re looking for it to happen overnight, stop looking altogether.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
My father once told me to stop asking myself what was wrong with me, and to ask “What’s wrong with them?” instead.
These writers tell their own truths through their words and investigations, and that is all that I have ever wanted to do with my own work.
What motivated you to get started?
I always loved stories. So I couldn’t wait to tell my own. The first time I put pen to paper I was eight years old. I read that story to my class and they loved it. They kept asking me when I was going to write another one. I was sold on writing from there on in.
Like best about what you do?
I make my own hours. I get to work in my shorts and a t-shirt. And I take a vacation whenever I want.
Like least about what you do?
Finding enough work to take care of myself and my staff. But I’ve been blessed to have fewer problems than most writers I know.
Why you love writing?
I love writing because no matter how simple or complex, it always tells a story. And I love to tell stories.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your first job?
My first job was as an intern for The Washington Informer newspaper when I was 12 years old. I wrote them a letter and they told me that I could work there for a summer. I worked as hard as I could and I really impressed them. Three years later, I worked for a national magazine called YSB.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Movies. I love going to them. I love watching them at home. My friends and I quote our favorites constantly. I also enjoy photography, shooting pool, all kinds of music, and traveling whenever I can.
Person most interested in meeting?
I’m very interested in meeting John Ridley, who is a novelist and writer in Hollywood, who has in many way managed to avoid being pigeonholed as a “black” writer. Though I don’t agree with his politics he has a pretty impressive resume and we’ve always been two degrees apart, which is odd considering our age difference.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
James Lassiter has an enormous amount of power as Will Smith’s business half. I would also like to talk to Sean Carter about the early days of Roc-A-Fella Records as I think there are some serious marketing lessons to be learned from that little label’s early successes.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I began my career in journalism at 10 when I was an anchorperson on a local television show called Newsbag.
- I cook an Brazillian shrimp stew that is amazing.
- I am a “Sopranos” and “Lost” fanatic.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- Love in its many forms
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
“Cut Numbers” by Nick Tosches
“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
“The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson
Freeing minds from The Matrix.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
I would love to be contacted by my fans, potential clients, and those who might be interested in bringing to their hometown to deliver a lecture or a creative writing workshop.
Interview by Elisha Greenwell
Introduction by Sara Ortega
Edited by Valerie Enriquez