Omi Osun Joni L. Jones was born on October 25th, 1955 in Chicago, Illinois. Around 1960, her family moved to a new development in the suburbs, where Omi and her older sisters grew up. As a child, Omi worked hard to stand out, always exceeding expectations in exchange for approval. When Omi was thirteen, her father passed away, leaving her disoriented about her identity. Even now, Omi continues to process this loss and its impact on her life.
Omi spent much of her childhood writing, drawing, making, and dreaming. This backdrop of constant creation set the stage for her to later step inside the “big identity” of an artist. She had a “vibrant life” as a performing artist in Washington, D.C., and eventually began teaching at the University of Texas at Austin under the title “Artist Scholar.” Outside of academia, Omi surrounded herself with people such as Laurie Carlos, Daniel Alexander Jones, and her wife Sharon Bridgforth, all of whom pushed her to be bold and pulled her into a world of art and activism. This aspect of her life allowed Omi to begin creating work in the realm of theatrical jazz, an artistic form that Omi describes with long, entrancing explanations about molecules, movement, and magic. At its best, she says, theatrical jazz “nudges us toward a more full embrace of the world.”
Though queerness was only indirectly on Omi’s radar in childhood, she became involved with queer spaces and people long before embracing it as a piece of her identity. In Austin, she met her wife, artist and writer Sharon Bridgforth. Though their wonderful origin story is perhaps best told by Omi and Sharon themselves, suffice it to say that the warmth and enthusiasm with which Omi speaks about their relationship is nothing short of infectious. Omi’s love shines similarly clearly when speaking about her daughter, Leigh, of whom she says simply: “She is the light.” Omi considers parenthood to be a formative piece of her life, and says that the experience of mothering Leigh has shaped who she is today.
Over the course of Omi’s interview, she expresses her thoughts about marriage, harassment, privilege, identity signifiers, and more. Powerful phrases like “divine responsibility” and “liberation” float throughout her answers, and every sentence is propelled by an undercurrent of genuine passion and authenticity.
Omi continues to create today, and is currently working on a set of short stories loosely based on her own experiences growing up in the Chicago suburbs. Through her writing, she hopes to better understand herself, a fitting aim for someone who is “committed to being all of who [she is], all the time.”