A Passionate Storyteller
Photo Credits: Jon Doucette; O&O Photography
While at New York Tech, Erica Ayisi (B.F.A. ’03, M.A. ’10) did not predict a future as a long-form writer. She spent her time as an undergraduate and graduate student building an impressive portfolio of television experience—most of it in front of the camera as an on air-reporter. But since graduating, her career has taken her in some fascinating directions, allowing her to tell stories from around the world in a variety of media.
Now more focused on writing, Ayisi appreciates the flexibility that being a freelancer affords her to pursue stories that speak to her interests. “Whenever I can, I choose underreported stories that people are not really talking about, or that could use a new angle or a fresh take,” she says. No matter what story she lands on, it is always a deep sense of curiosity that has led her there. “I am interested as to why people have made certain decisions in their lives. That’s usually where I begin.”
Ayisi’s passion for reporting and storytelling has not gone unnoticed, landing her work in some of the industry’s most prestigious outlets and publications, including NBCNews.com, Mongabay, Rhode Island PBS Weekly, The Root magazine, ESSENCE, Lonely Planet, and others. She is also a Pulitzer Center grantee, receiving funding from the foundation to pursue her work on underreported international human-interest stories. “My first project with them was about the Cambodian hair trade, and how that hair ends up in the United States,” she says. “That’s how my relationship with the Pulitzer Center began, and it’s been great ever since.” Another story funded by the nonprofit foundation looks at coastal erosion in Ghana brought on by climate change. It focuses on which part of the population is affected and how the government is addressing the issue.
Erica Ayisi in Senegal during the early days of Akosua’s Closet. Photo credit: Daichi Photography
Ayisi’s stories have spanned history and geography, covering subjects as diverse as surfers in Ghana to Massachusetts native Paul Cuffee, the first Black and Indigenous millionaire in the United States. “Sometimes when I encounter a story I think, ‘This might not get told if I don’t tell it now, and if I don’t, then who knows what will be lost to the world?’ Maybe different ways of thinking, less judgments,” says Ayisi. “That thought is enough to drive me to pursue it.”
Not satisfied just traveling the world seeking out fascinating stories, Ayisi recently embarked on an adventure of a different kind when she started her own clothing business. Akosua’s Closet is the vehicle through which she brings the latest fashion from countries like Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa to American consumers. “While reporting in Ghana and other parts of West Africa, I was drawn to the clothes because the fashion is just so dope and always changing,” she says. “I was just buying stuff for myself and my friends, and people were always asking about my clothes. So, I decided one year, ‘I’m just going to buy some clothing and jewelry, and have a party and see how it goes.’ And that was five years ago!”
Whether through her writing or her fashion business, Ayisi is committed to sharing cultures, customs, and stories with the world. "I love talking about Africa, no matter the vehicle," she says.