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A Conversation with Kiley Reid about Such A Fun Age A Conversation with Kiley Reid about Such A Fun Age
A Conversation with Kiley Reid about Such A Fun Age

Kiley Reid is an award-winning short story writer and recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Ebonyonline.net caught up with her ahead of her UK book tour.


EOL: When did you first know you were a writer/storyteller?

KR: I’ve been filling notebooks with stories for as long as I can remember. The simple answer is that I’ve always been obsessed with storytelling. I knew I was a writer around age 23.


EOL: What was it about your own nanny/babysitting experience that encouraged or inspired you to immortalize it in this exciting and deeply moving novel?

KR: Something that inspired me was witnessing how much intelligence and independence children and toddlers have at such a young age. I’m also interested in complicated relationships, and the babysitter/child/mother dynamic is definitely one of them. I think relationships that can’t happen without an exchange of goods are fascinating, and I’ve always been intrigued by emotional labor.


And when these types of relationships are set up, especially when children are involved, an immediate pressure cooker of time is placed on them because the children won’t need them forever. When will it end, how will it end, who will end it, who becomes the primary caretaker…I love the push that time crunch places on a story.


EOL: How much of you is reflected in the main character of Emira? OR … How much of SUCH A FUN AGE is autobiographical?

KR: While none of this novel is autobiographical, I’d like to think the experiences are based in truth of circumstance. I was definitely inspired in my time meeting so many different children and parents while I was babysitting. Emira and I are very different (I’m hyper organized in a way she isn’t, but she’s also leagues cooler than I am) but we both share a love of taking care of children and treating them like adults.


EOL: Like countless victims of non-brutal discrimination that occurs every day, Emira is the victim of racial profiling while on the job caring for her white boss’s two-year-old. It’s a pivotal scene that triggers life-altering events.  What do you hope readers take away from that scene?

KR: I hope readers take away the feeling of a low-to-the-ground and domestic terror, that it can and does happen everywhere. That these moments aren’t self contained and continue to shape everyone involved, particularly the African Americans who have to mentally carry the event with them to every job and grocery story from that time on.


I also hope readers find themselves analyzing the broken systems that low income people like Emira are forced into, how much they affect her, and how little they’re mentioned by the people in power around her.


EOL: Like the book’s vivid principal players, its supporting characters are indelible, from perceptive little Briar to Emira’s tell-it-like-it-is best friend Zara and even Peter Chamberlain’s well-meaning co-anchor Laney Thacker.  How do you consistently help them leap off the page?

KR: One thing I tell my students to do is something I try to do myself in my writing, which is giving every character a win at some point in the story. To find out what very nice and helpful thing that character would do, and then have them do it. Whether it’s paying for someone’s coffee or complimenting someone’s dress, having empathy for every character humanises them, and also makes their less perfect moments appear more charged and real.


EOL: While earning your Master of Fine Arts degree at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop you were awarded the Truman Capote Fellowship. How has this experience changed you? 

KR: The Truman Capote Fellowship was vital in the completion of this novel. It definitely changed the way I see the writing process, and further enforced beliefs I held before grad school in that time is always a writer’s greatest gift.


EOL: Emmy-winning writer/producer Lena Waithe, one of the most influential young voices in Hollywood right now, snapped up the film and TV rights to the book before publication. What was your first reaction? Will you have a creative role moving forward?

KR: I was completely floored and quickly grateful as she and her team are incredibly kind, brilliant, and protective of both me and my work. I’m currently drafting the film adaptation alongside the producers and it’s a wonderful and challenging experience.


EOL: As a writer, what’s the best advice you’ve been given?

KR: Jess Walter said to write to your obsessions, which sounds obvious, but I think it is extremely worth exploring and admitting your tendencies as a writer, and using empathy to make readers obsessed with them too.


EOL: Are there specific authors you have found particularly inspiring?

KR:  Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny has really stuck with me and I found her very quiet take on class dynamics incredibly inspiring. I keep Joy William’s 99 Stories Of God under my bed because I love it. I also recently enjoyed Heads of Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires.


EOL: What do you hope readers take away from this novel?

KR: First, I just hope readers love the story. I hope they forget about whatever they’re doing and get wrapped up in the characters and experience that ‘what’s gonna happen?!’ feeling that I love to experience while reading. Second, I hope the novel works as both a gateway and a mirror; that readers can therefore become interested in reading about all types of characters, ones of various races and incomes. I hope this book can gently nudge readers on a personal level to stop, look inward, and say, “Yikes. I do that, too,” but I also hope it makes them look more broadly at systems like health care and childcare and how they actually affect the people who need them most.


EOL: What’s next for you?

KR: My husband and I have recently moved to Philadelphia. I’ll continue to work on the film adaptation as book tour begins in the New Year, and one day, a second novel.


Published by Bloomsbury Circus on 7 January 2020, Hardback: £12.99  Ebook: £10.90

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