Kemi Balugon in an award-winning author and academic of Nigerian descent, who grew up in the United States. She is co-editor of the book Africa Every Day: Fun, Leisure, and Expressive Culture on the Continent, which we will review separately in a Did You Know later this month. But first, let’s get to know her a little better. 

What would you like to tell us about your childhood/teen hood? Where did you grow up?

I am the daughter of Nigerian immigrants to America. I was always curious about the world as a child. My nose was always buried in a book, and I was interested in and excited about school – that was my happy place. That has definitely influenced where I am today; being a knowledge seeker and lifelong learner.

What were your most formative influences? Which person has been the most influential in determining who you have become? 

My mom made a lot of sacrifices to support my education. She was a nurse, who would often work double shifts. As a teenager I got the opportunity to attend a boarding school. My mom was just… whatever it takes for you to get the best education possible, I will support you. And boarding school – which is not a common education option in the States – was definitely a formative experience for me; getting exposed to a new lifestyle, different from the one I had grown up in.

When did you know that you would become an academic and author?

I wanted to be a teacher quite early on. I didn’t know what an academic was, but I wanted a career where I would be learning constantly.

If you were not an academic and author, what would you be?

I considered a diplomatic career while I was in college. I was drawn to the idea of bringing people together; to helping people get along peacefully. And I considered going into the corporate world and working in Human Resources, again with the idea of helping people.

What are your next goals/ aspirations?

I definitely want to write a couple more books. I am interested in questions of citizenship, travel and mobility, and also in questions of gender and embodiment – how the body is important for how we think about gender. I am also interested in exploring class, ethnicity and race. Then, to broaden myself as a writer, I also would like to write a memoir, as I have always kept a journal, and love reading memoirs and biographies.

What advice do you have for our young readers who dream about becoming, specifically, academics/ writers, and generally, for living productive, meaningful, and interesting lives?

Life is a journey; you are always finding and honing your authentic voice and perspective. That is part of what draws me to writing; that you are saying what you think and inviting people into your world and your perspective. And part of that involves figuring out what is my authentic take on the world, and staying true to that and also being bold about saying: this is how the world should change.

With regard to academia, being an academic involves being able to observe and absorb the world and saying this is what I see around me; identifying patterns and asking: what does this mean, and then communicating these thoughts to an audience – whether they be students in a class at university, or through your research that you write up in books.

Tell us: Has our interview with Kemi Balogun taught you a little more about what it is like to be an academic and author?