DCF: Who Are You?
My name is Joi-Marie McKenzie and I’m the Entertainment/Lifestyle writer for ABC News. I’m also a brand new author — my debut memoir, “The Engagement Game,” hit bookshelves recently (DCF: WHOOOOO!!). It tells the story of why I ultimately walked away from a relationship after playing tons of games to secure a marriage proposal. People say it’s hilarious and I believe them.
DCF: Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
JM: I’ve always been a writer. I’ve kept a diary since I was eight years old so to say that I love writing would be a severe understatement. My love of writing led me to start my own blog, DC Fab!, which became an instant success in Washington, D.C. We’re actually celebrating our 10 year anniversary, which is crazy to even say. Thankfully, that blog eventually led to my job at ABC News and later my book deal. I’m funemployed because — and I probably shouldn’t say this on the record — but I would do my job for free if I had to (DCF: Shhhhh girl don’t tell em!! But I know exactly what you mean!!). I get to interview celebrities and go to velvet rope events and parties and then write about it! It doesn’t get any better than that.
DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
JM: It sounds cliché to say but it was my mother, Vashti McKenzie (DCF: Mom’s can be the greatest!!). She has said since I was a teenager — when she found a short story I had written — that I had two or three books inside of me. So she encouraged me very early on to pursue writing as a serious career option. When I initially graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park I didn’t go into journalism. I didn’t even want to go into journalism. My mom was a journalist, my grandmother was a journalist. My great-grandfather was a newspaper publisher. I really dreaded being predictable and going into the “family business.” But as my mother likes to say, “Your gifts make room for you.” So eventually, my starting a blog led me to journalism. There was no escaping it (DCF: Sometimes it’s in your blood, as I found out more about my middle namesake, Charlotta Spears Bass, and her passions, including journalism, my journey made so much more sense).
DCF: What’s your happy place?
JM: Because I live in New York City now, I sort of have to create little happy places all over town. My bedroom is happy place number one (DCF: As it should be, your home should be your sanctuary!); I value sleep a lot and I’m not one of those people who can pull all nighters. I also created a happy place in my neighborhood coffee shop, Lenox Coffee. And my new facial go-to, Heyday Spa. I sound like such a cliché!
DCF: Where do you get your energy?
JM: As you likely can tell, I place high value on treating myself all of the time whether it’s a facial, ordering that glass of expensive champagne, taking a long walk in the park with my miniature dachshund or splurging on a pricy manicure. Now, I don’t do that all of the time but I think we as women are taught to prioritize everything else in our lives before ourselves. (DCF: I had to hit that with the bold, underline, AND italics! We need to treat ourselves, love ourselves, and put ourselves first because we cannot help others if we don’t have our stuff right!). I reject that idea. Oh! And I read a lot…a whole lot. I probably read two to three books a month (DCF: YASSSSS MORE OF THIS!! People do not read anymore). I love memoirs particularly because you can uncover how people think. This is super important for me since I live in New York, where people rarely have in-depth conversations; they’d rather be polite. So books allow me to drill down deeper.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
JM: Balance? Where are you balance? I’m looking for it! Balance is that sweet spot between doing what you have to do and doing what you want to do. Right now, I’m not doing so well balancing because of my career. I still make time to prioritize my relationships, but it is a daily power struggle.
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
JM: The biggest sacrifice is quality time with friends and family. I often have to cover an event or a screening in the evenings, and a friend may want to get up for drinks or something and I just can’t. I try to circumvent that by inviting friends to come along, when possible. (DCF: The plus one is such a blessing and a curse, I love being able to take friends along but I have having to pick and choose.)
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
JM: The great thing about journalism and publishing is that women are the majority. Even better still, my editor and managing editor are women and so they have a certain perspective that is beneficial to me. Still, there are, sort of, cracked glass ceilings that still exist. I’d love to see more women, especially women of color, on our board and in the higher rungs of management. If I’m being honest, though, I’m always mistaken for having less experience than I do. I tend to use people’s lowered assumptions about me to my advantage; they never see me coming!
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
JM: Learn how to ask for help. Women, we feel we can do it all and because we’re not used to asking for help, it’s super hard to do. This is especially true for black women. We’re sort of taught the trope that black women are strong and if you can’t handle it all you sort of think, “What’s wrong with me?” Everyone else is out here being a strong black woman — Beyonce! Michelle Obama! Oprah — and I can’t deal. But in this process of releasing a book, I’ve had to learn to get over being afraid of asking for help. I need all of the help all of the time! And so I wish I had been smart enough to lean on a few people from the gate.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
JM: I write about what I perceived to be my greatest failure in my memoir, The Engagement Game. At the time, I had been in a five year relationship with a man I just knew I’d marry — and it didn’t happen. And because I saw myself through his lens for so long, without him just didn’t make sense. Thankfully, that break up led me to writing about that break up, which led to this book deal…do you see where I’m going with this? The break up was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Not only did it propel my writing career but it also freed me from a lot of childhood and patriarchal assumptions that I was putting on myself. That break up allowed me to discover who Joi-Marie really is, without trying to shape shift and gain approval from men.
DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
JM: My proudest moment was securing my book deal. This was a childhood dream of mine and I before I got my book deal I had been trying to write a book for 10 years; I just didn’t have a story to tell. So when I finally got the call that my publisher wanted to release my book (mind you, this is only after I submitted 50 pages!) I was ecstatic. I’ve never had dreams come true like this. Now I feel that anything is possible…with God’s help.
DCF: What are you Currently Conquering?
JM: My debut memoir, The Engagement Game: Why I Said ‘I Don’t’ to Marriage and ‘I Do’ to Me is out now. Please pick it up for yourself, or your girlfriend, or your bridesmaids!
Join the Fab Empire as they celebrate the debut memoir of The Fab Empire creator Joi-Marie McKenzie on Tuesday, March 28 inside Busboys and Poets (2021 14th Street NW) on U Street. It’s called The Engagement Game! The evening, hosted by famed bookstore Politics and Prose, will be moderated by Emmy Award-winning reporter and anchor of “Good Morning Washington” Jummy Olabanji. – More detail here.
DCF: Let’s Get Social (Media)!!