Issa Rae Biography

Screenwriter, Author, Producer, Actress, Director (1985–)
Issa Rae is an American writer, actress, director and producer who is best known for her HBO Emmy-nominated series 'Insecure.'

Who Is Issa Rae?

Born in 1985, Issa Rae launched her career in Hollywood by creating a web series on YouTube called Awkward Black Girl in 2011. As the show gained popularity and turned viral, Rae created more digital content with the help of producer and pop star Pharrell Williams. Partnering with comedian Larry Wilmore in 2013, Rae created the HBO series Insecure (2016-present), in which she also stars in the lead role, to critical acclaim. Rae has subsequently released a memoir The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (2015), which became a New York Times best-seller. 

Issa Rae Photo

Issa Rae attends The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. 

Early Life and Parents

Issa Rae was born Jo-Issa Rae Diop on January 15, 1985 in Los Angeles, California, to parents Abdoulaye Diop, a doctor in pediatrics, and Delyna Hayward, a school teacher. Rae's father was originally from Senegal, and it was there in the city of Dakar that Rae briefly spent some of her childhood. 

As one of five children, Rae spent a substantial part of her pre-teen years in Potomac, Maryland, in which she admittedly grew up surrounded by people and activities that didn't fit into the stereotype of the black experience. A bit of a culture shock came when her parents moved the family to Los Angeles where Rae transferred to a largely black middle school, where she received a barrage of criticism from her peers for acting white. Her parents would divorce during her teen years. 

After high school, Rae attended Stanford University and graduated in 2007. It was during her time at Stanford that she met her friend and future producer and co-star of Awkward Black Girl, Tracy Oliver.

Rae would later move to New York City on a theater fellowship before Awkward Black Girl started gaining momentum. 

Career Highlights

'Awkward Black Girl'

Launched in 2011, Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl became a hit among mainstream outlets. Rae plays the main character "J" (aka "the black Liz Lemon") who narrates her experiences of being put in awkward social situations both professionally and personally. The series offered a unique and layered perspective on the black experience that hadn't been seen in popular media, which helped earn the series a Shorty award under the Best Web Show category in 2013.

Rae's success gave her the financial clout and celebrity to be supported by Pharrell Williams, who ran some of her shows on his own YouTube channel iamOTHER

Rae continued to develop, write, produce and edit more digital shows on her YouTube channel that defied black stereotypes.


With her newfound notoriety, Rae began collaborating with comedian Larry Wilmore on a new series, which would be called Insecure. Delving into the African-American experience through the lens of the character, Issa Dee — a young, twenty-something professional — Rae explained the comedic series as a journey into "the complexities of 'blackness' and the reality that you can’t escape being black." 

Rae also added the show's universal factor: "We’re just trying to convey that people of color are relatable. This is not a hood story. This is about regular people living life," she said.

Since its 2016 premiere on HBO, Insecure has earned critical acclaim and a solid audience. Among its accolades, Rae has received two Golden Globe nominations (2017 and 2018) and one Emmy nomination (2018) in the Best Actress category.

Rae's next projects include a TV series called Him or Her, and she's also set to star in the coming-of-age drama The Hate U Give, based on the Y.A. novel by Angie Thomas.


In 2015 Rae released The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, a memoir that humorously depicts everything ranging from her childhood to not being "black enough" to eating alone in public to coming to terms with her natural hair. 

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