Eric is CEO of Citizen University. He’s the son of immigrants and an author, creator, and civic evangelist.
Welcome. I’m Eric Liu, the CEO and co-founder of Citizen University. I’d like to share the what and the why of my life and my work. And I’d like to hear the what and why of yours. Find me on Twitter @ericpliu.
I am the child of immigrants. Being a second-generation American has defined my worldview. It has given me a lifelong sense that every opportunity comes with obligation — to be useful, to contribute, to make all the striving and sacrifice worth it. It has also made me want to push my country to live up to the promises of opportunity and justice that drew people like my parents here.
I went to public schools in upstate New York and then to Yale College, after which I moved to Washington D.C. to work in the U.S. Senate and the White House. Along the way I got a law degree at Harvard and began writing books on public issues.
If you’re looking for a formal bio, a headshot of me, or ways to get in touch, visit this page →
I’ve written eight books so far, and each has left some DNA in Citizen University. The ideas in those books — like “society becomes how you behave” and “we’re all better off when we’re all better off” — have also shaped how our team thinks about building culture. They explore the tensions between our idealistic American creed and the institutional realities of racism, inequity, and injustice — tensions CU tries to help civic catalysts to navigate as they serve their communities.
This 2007 text gives readers a fresh way to think about patriotism through a manifesto, a ten-principle plan, a model speech, and a moral code.
This 2009 collaboration with Scott Noppe-Brandon gives a set of practices for cultivating imagination in the arts, civics, business and education.
This book from 2005 is about transformative mentors from many walks of life.
In this 2014 text, I reflect on the experience of being Chinese American in the age of China versus America.
In my first book from 1998, I share how the Asian American identity illuminates the limits of America’s black-white race discourse.
The birth of Citizen University
While I cut my teeth in DC and speak to national audiences, I’d say my greatest education in what it means to live like a citizen has come in my two decades in Seattle. I’ve been tutored by iconic local civic leaders here, co-led Seattle Schools levies, served on the Washington State Board of Education, and chaired the Seattle Public Library Board. I co-founded the Alliance for Gun Responsibility here.
And Seattle — this dynamic, entrepreneurial, creative place — is where Citizen University was born.
After writing Guiding Lights in 2005, I wanted to create a nationwide conference on the art of mentoring. In collaboration with Seattle Center, the Guiding Lights Weekend was launched (still, by most reports, one of the best and most joyful conferences anyone has been to!).
A few years in, we realized that our conference was not just about mentor-mentee dyads; it was about the art of community-building and how people pass along what they know. It was about citizenship.
Through this process, I became teammates with my future wife Jená Cane, a theater artist with a gift for creating purposeful, spirited gatherings.
Together, we helped the Guiding Lights Weekend evolve into the Citizen University conference, which then became the awesome year-round organization we know and love today.
Our work at Citizen University feels urgent and meaningful, especially in this time when faith in democracy is declining and civic know-how and civic cohesion are waning. Our team believes it’s possible to spark a civic revival in this country. And we try to show it as much as say it — to find and connect and activate people all around our country who want to practice civic power and cultivate civic character to achieve true liberty and true justice truly for all.
That’s my civic story. It emerges from love and a search for purpose. Let me know yours — and let it bring you more deeply into our work.