Zachary Wood is an Assistant Editor and Columnist at The Guardian, and also a class of 2018 graduate of Williams College, where he served as president of Uncomfortable Learning, a student group that sparked national controversy for inviting provocative speakers to campus.
Zach’s book, Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America, makes a compelling argument for a new way of interacting with others in a time that has never felt more polarized. When Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, and Daniel Pink hand-picked Uncensored as an official Next Big Idea Club selection, we asked Zach to delve into the big ideas behind his recent work, the surprising things he learned during his writing process, and his vision for a world that knows how to disagree respectfully.
In two sentences or less, can you sum up the “big idea” of your book?
By engaging with diverse and unfamiliar perspectives, we can gain a deeper understanding of humanity and build the empathy and compassion needed to make a positive difference in the communities we belong to.
What surprised you the most in your research?
I was most surprised by the number of thinkers and advocates who variously discuss intellectual diversity in largely political terms.
Did an event from your personal life inspire or affect the book?
The passing of my grandfather during the writing process moved me to dedicate the book to him and reflect more on the wonderful impact he had on my life.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
I hope readers walk away with the understanding that openness can be as challenging as it can be conducive for growth and progress, and that while being open to new and difficult ideas may be extremely tough, doing so keeps open alive and vibrant channels through which we can achieve social change.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that guides your life?
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
What is one book that you wish everyone in the world would read?
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.
What was your most humbling moment?
When I had to leave my high school at the beginning of my senior year, owing to a personal mistake that I write about in Uncensored. It remains the one thing in my life that I’d do over again, if I could.
What trivial trick, talent, or feat can you do to impress people?
I believe I can do remarkable impersonations of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and to a lesser extent, Denzel Washington.
What’s something that is really easy for most people that you find really challenging?
Packing efficiently for travel and not forgetting simple things—like an undershirt or even my toothbrush.
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