Welcome to MarieClaire.com's Q&A author series—the spot where we ask the #ReadWithMC author-of-the-month five burning questions about her latest book. For our first pick of 2020, we're reading Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. If you're interested in the novel and looking for some friends to talk about it with, find out how to participate in Marie Claire's online monthly book club here. (Yes, you really don't have to leave your couch.)
When Lena Waithe's production company acquires the rights to your debut novel more than a year before it hits shelves, you must have done something right. In the case of Kiley Reid, that something is subtly illustrating the systemic racism in America and the ways that we're routinely perpetuating it or being subjected to it on daily basis. The question that will sit with readers for days after finishing the book: What role do I play?
Such a Fun Age (out December 31) centers on Emira, a 25-year-old Black woman accused of kidnapping the white child of a wealthy family she babysits for in Philadelphia. What happens in the first 50 pages is an all-too-familiar experience for people of color, and what happens afterwards is a wake-up call for anybody who's been blinded by their white privilege. With her razor-sharp hilarious dialogue (she just gets it!), it's hard to believe Reid, 32, hasn't been writing novels for years.
"I definitely didn't think that writing was something I wanted to do professionally until I was in my early 20s. But even then, I mean, you just don't become a writer overnight," says Reid, who graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in May. "I was working as a receptionist. I would write during my lunch breaks and after work. After two years of applying to graduate schools and receiving a lot of rejections, I finally got into school and that's kind of where the writing took off."
Here, Reid explains exactly what she hopes readers take away from her self-proclaimed "cringy, human, and fun" novel, and how she pushes herself through the writing process.
Marie Claire: What inspired you to write Such a Fun Age?
Kiley Reid: The start was probably just my tendency towards awkward interactions. I knew I wanted three characters that have an awkward relationship with each other. I got lucky with this one because I had Emira, Alix, and Kelley, then I also have [the triangle between] Briar, Emira, and Alix—that has a lot of complicated dynamics with ownership that I was really excited to explore, especially with the history of Black women raising white children in this country and being owned by white people. I was excited to show how that history doesn't exactly go away all at once.
I admire a lot of authors who write auto-fiction, but I am not one of them. I think I felt inspired by Emira because when I was in my 20s I really knew what I wanted to do and I still found it really challenging. I was intrigued by a woman who is really smart and quick and still doesn't know what she wants to do...and how she is set up or not set up for success.
MC: What makes your book timely? Why should people read it now?
KR: Because it's coming out now. (Just kidding!) I think as social media progresses, it's an opportunity for people to see how systemic racism filters into so many parts of Black everyday life—even when violence is not a part of it. I hope that the timely factor is familiar, but I also hope that there are other emotions throughout the book where people are like, Oh, I've been feeling that way for years, but I couldn't put it into words until I saw someone else experience it. That's why I read, and that's what I hope to give readers as well.
MC: If you could be one character in the book, who would you be?
KR: Zara is so quick, and she has that benefit I was talking about of knowing what she wants to do her whole life. She also has a selflessness that's really wonderful. I kind of envy her loyalty as a friend, and I love her ability to apologize very, very quickly. That's a nice quality in a person.
MC: What's something readers may not know about you?
KR: I go to these different exercise classes at my gym in the morning before I write and I'm terrible at them. But it's this release of energy and I get used to being bad at something. Then I go write and I don't really care if a sentence is bad. I'm like, I'll fix it later. It helps me write a lot easier.
Oh, also, I love any movie about space or, like, outside of Earth...I will read anything about it!
MC: What are you reading now? What's currently on your nightstand?
KR: Oh my gosh, my husband just bought me a book that I'm really excited about. It's called The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada. I'm pretty obsessed with anything that has to do with capitalism and the spirit of work in America. The other is Liz Moore's book, Long Bright River. She lives in Philadelphia. I DM'd her like four months ago being like, "Hey, we both have books set in Philadelphia" and now she's a good friend, which is really great.
Audio excerpted courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, read by Nicole Lewis.
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Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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