In October 2020, Chicago artist, Black queer feminist and educator Kyra Jones won a first-place screenwriting award at the Nashville Film Festival for her comedy pilot “Good Vibes Only,” a script she wrote during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The half-hour pilot follows a graduate student, who happens to also be a part-time Instagram influencer, as she learns everything she didn’t know about sex. 

The win opened up more doors for Jones. Multiple studios are interested in developing “Good Vibes Only.” And although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed her inevitable move to Los Angeles, TV writing gigs and a manager came virtually knocking on her door.

At the time, she was working full-time at her alma mater, Northwestern University, as the assistant director of sexual health and violence resource center, Center for Awareness, Response & Education (CARE). She entered pitch week in March 2021 through Coverfly, a screenwriter talent-discovery platform. After a successful call with an executive from Hulu’s “Woke,” Jones got the job to be a writer on the show, her first big TV writing gig.  

Two weeks after the writers’ room for “Woke” wrapped up in June, Jones got word from her manager that another TV show was interested in hiring her. He sent her the pilot for “Queens,” a new ABC show that follows four women in their 40s who reunite for a chance to recapture the fame they had in the ’90s when they were legends in the hip-hop world.

“I turned on the pilot and I was, like, ‘that’s Eve! Oh my God. That’s Brandy!’ I was like, damn it, I have to do the show,” Jones said excitedly during a phone interview with the TRiiBE on Oct. 8.

On a Zoom call, Jones met with “Queens” showrunner Zahir McGhee, a Shondaland alum who co-produced ABC’s “Scandal” and “For the People.” An hour after their meeting, Jones received the job offer. She’s now a full-time staff writer for “Queens,” which premieres on ABC at 9:00 p.m. central on Oct. 19.

“I was really excited because I knew the show was going to be a huge hit and I was really pumped to get to work with Zahir,” Jones said. 

In January 2022, Jones is leaving her Uptown apartment on Chicago’s North Side for the West Coast, because most TV writers’ rooms are based in LA. She’s making the move at a time where there seems to be an ongoing moment of reckoning in Hollywood over its longtime lack of diversity.

“I knew TV writers' rooms operate out of LA, so I would end up there eventually. But I wasn’t going to move there prematurely and wait tables when I had steady work in a great artistic community in Chicago,” Jones said. Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

In recent years, there’s been more representation of Black people on screen and behind the scenes. TV shows such as HBO’s “Insecure” and OWN’s “Queen Sugar ” are depicting the beauty and complexity of Blackness in ways that traditional white-driven shows can’t — or won’t. And they’re making history while doing it; with “Insecure,” Issa Rae is the first Black woman to create and star in a premium cable series, while Ava Duvernay made sure her “Queen Sugar” writers’ room was majority women and that women sit in the director’s chair.

At 28 years old, Jones enters Hollywood, excited about the lane her predecessors have opened for her to shape and create compelling narratives that speak to all aspects of Blackness. Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, she fell in love with acting in high school. She’s had her eyes set on starring in her own TV shows like Issa Rae in HBO’s “Insecure” and Donald Glover in FX’s “Atlanta.” And she knew that, at some point, ​​she’d have to make her way out to LA.

“I knew TV writers’ rooms operate out of LA, so I would end up there eventually. But I wasn’t going to move there prematurely and wait tables when I had steady work in a great artistic community in Chicago,” Jones said. 

After graduating from NU with a degree in theater and gender studies in 2014, Jones settled in Chicago; an ever-evolving playground for modern Black cinema dating back to Theodore Witcher’s “Love Jones” and George Tillman Jr.’s “Soul Food” in the 1990s, and as far back as Michael Schultz and Eric Monte’s “Cooley High” in the 1970s. 

Today, Jones credits Chicago as being instrumental to her development in acting and screenwriting. During her junior and senior years in college, she took playwriting and screenwriting courses at NU and later took writing classes at Second City, an improv comedy club and training hub that birthed the careers of Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, and more.

After college, Jones landed small roles on FOX’s “Empire” and NBC’s “Chicago Justice.” Then she decided to stay in Chicago to develop her screenwriting skills. 

“I didn’t feel like I was ready for the competitive market of New York or LA, and I didn’t have the money for New York or LA,” Jones said. “Chicago felt like a great place to build my resume while still being affordable.”

In 2018, Jones linked up with OTV, an online platform for intersectional storytelling, along with indie film and TV shows. She played Maya on “Seeds,” a web series following the misadventures of four Black women. And then starred in her first web series, “The Right Swipe,” a rom-com exploring the intersections of marginalized identity. She co-created the series with Juli Del Prete and co-wrote it. 

With a microgrant and mentorship support from OTV, “The Right Swipe” premiered on OTV in 2019. It became an official selection in multiple film festivals, and won Best Web Series Episode at the Portland Comedy Film Festival in 2019.

“There weren’t people that were excited about creators that look like me. OTV was the first place that made me feel like my story mattered and that my work was exciting,” Jones said. 

Although Chicago is buzzing with film, TV and theater productions, Jones said the city still lacks writers’ rooms. She said LA has “monopolized this part of television production,” but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the entertainment industry to open its eyes to talent living outside of California. Before the pandemic, directors and casting directors most likely hired people who auditioned in person in LA, she said. With remote work becoming the norm during the pandemic, Jones got the opportunity to work virtually in the writers’ rooms for both “Woke” and “Queens.”

Since June, Jones has been working on “Queens” via Zoom. When it’s time to write a new episode for the show, Jones and the other writers do what’s called “blue-skying,” where everyone in the room throws out ideas to see what sticks. 

After that process, the winning idea is chosen and the group writes an outline. Then, one of the writers works independently to turn the idea into a script.

The first season of “Queens” will include 13 episodes, and Jones will write at least one of them, she said. For Hulu’s “Woke,” Jones wrote episode five in season two. The new season’s release date hasn’t been announced just yet.

“Queens” has been a thrilling experience for Jones, who describes herself as a music lover, especially when it comes to hip hop and female MCs. She’s also a huge fan of Brandy, as are many Black millennials who refer to her as the vocal bible.

“The Brandy ‘Cinderella’ [movie] is iconic and impacted me in a positive way,” Jones said, speaking about Brandy’s influence. “When it came out, I was four years old. That was the first time I’d ever saw somebody who looked like me, that was a princess.”

For “Queens,” the writers’ room is diverse in every sense of the word, Jones said. At least half of the show’s writers are Black, and there are a couple of white women and Latinx women in the room with Jones as well. 

“I feel extremely grateful to be where I am. Black woman creators that suffered through this industry and came before me that paved the way for me,” Jones said. “I can’t say that I’ve had as bad of an experience as some other folks.” 

Outside of her TV work, Jones is working on her directorial debut, Go to the Body, a feature-length drama about sexual violence in Chicago. The film’s main characters are a young Black couple, social justice organizer Sanaa and boxer Kendrick, and explores what restorative justice and healing looks like outside of the criminal justice system following a sexual assault.

The story is important to Jones, a survivor of sexual assault who worked at her alma mater’s Sexual Violence Resource Center. While at NU, Black students would come and seek help but didn’t think what happened to them was sexual assault because it didn’t look like how sexual assault is portrayed in mainstream media and television. Although Go to the Body is not autobiographical, it is informed by her experience of being in the organizing community, where there were men who used “the guide of being a liberator to get close enough to Black women to harm them,” she said.

Kyra Jones pictured in Uptown. Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE
"This is a great time to be a Black or brown writer in television," Jones said. Photo by ANF Chicago // The TRiiBE

Jones and film producer Angellic Ross are casting leads for the film now. They hope to start filming Go to the Body in Chicago in 2022. 

“I love Chicago as a city, but also as a creative place, and I hope that I can continue to work here and create here. I don’t ever see myself abandoning Chicago completely [or] becoming an Angeleno,” she said.  

As for advice she’d give to other people of color who want to enter the film and TV industry, she said to stay the course: don’t get discouraged if it takes long to reach your dreams. And, she stressed the importance of creatives producing their own work. Even small-scale projects on Tik Tok and Instagram can catch Hollywood’s attention. 

“This is a great time to be a Black or brown writer in television. There are more shows that are being run by Black and brown people or about Black and brown people,” Jones said. “The industry is starting to take seriously that there are too many writers’ rooms that don’t have any people of color in them.”

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.