For most of us, thinking back to our junior year of college doesn't bring to mind memories of writing a book. But then again, we’re not Zach Wood, who graduated from Williams College just this year. Wood wrote for several national publications while still in school, and in 2016 he earned viral acclaim for a story about his experience, as an impoverished student, of returning home for the holidays. That success gave him attention and a start, and in January of 2017 he began writing Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America, which was published this June.
Wood grew up poor and black, with a mother who suffered from mental illness, splitting his time between Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Those circumstances stand in stark contrast to his enrollment at an elite private school. But he was an ambitious kid filled with curiosity from a young age, eager to learn more about the divide between his life and others.
In the eighth grade, Wood started keeping a journal to document his experiences (his journals would later serve as a guide for his book). Then, at Williams College, he played devil’s advocate by inviting provocative speakers to campus through the student group Uncomfortable Learning. Those invitations drew criticism from many of his peers, but again, he wanted to understand other sides and different worldviews. When we spoke with Wood, he was hours away from making an appearance on a television show with an anchor whose views are almost totally opposed to his own.
These are encounters that would make a lot of us squeamish, but they don’t faze Wood: “The idea of developing a greater understanding of humanity, a deeper understanding of the world, and all the complexities and the nuances,” he told us, “meant that I had to have a stake in difficult conversations across ideological divides.”
These days, Wood is serving as an assistant editor at The Atlantic, and given his aspirations for public service, we’re pretty sure he’s got quite the future ahead of him.