Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Farai Chideya, the former host of NPR’s “News and Notes,” remixes the badass trifecta in her debut novel “Kiss the Sky,” a tale of a former rock star whose constant search for happiness in all the wrong places brings her to discover the power within.Chideya opened up to Books on the Root about blackness, science fiction, and her future husband.
Books on the Root: “Kiss the Sky” revolves around Sophie Clare a thirty-something black female Harvard grad and ex-rock star. In terms of identity, she’s the type of character that’s not often seen in books. Were you offering commentary about the diversity of “blackness”?
Farai Chideya: Hell yeah! It’s ironic that I hosted “the black show” on NPR for 2 1/2 years because various people have tried to call me out about how I was not black enough; or, conversely, to put me up on a stage as the paragon of blackness. Their interpretations of who I am have a lot to do with who they are, and I understand that, though it makes me uncomfortable sometimes. All of us are just one star in the heavens, both unique and familiar. So my blackness deeply informs who I am but does not define me in my entirety.
BOTR: Any of the book autobiographical?
FC: A lot of the biographical details of the character (she’s from Baltimore and attended Harvard) are autobiographical. Like Sky, I have dealt with plenty of eating and fitness issues, from bulimia, thankfully far in the past, to stress eating, very much in the present, but working on it. The drug addiction of the character Ari is based on a specific experience I had with a friend, a very much non-romantic friend, but one I helped put in rehab.
Most of the moments when people will think, “Aha, I know who Farai is and what she’s about,” are not the moments that are autobiographical. I was finally able to let go later in the writing stage and just make up a lot of shit. That recklessness with the small “t” factual truth, as opposed to the big “T” emotional truth, is what makes fiction, fiction.
BOTR: Writer Colin Channer said that your book “may end up being a defining novel of the Obama generation.” Do you think a body of literature will emerge or is emerging that reflects the country’s changing sociopolitical landscape?
FC: Yes. The most powerful politician in the land can draw strength from being black, and speak powerfully about being black, and yet be clear that his race informs but does not circumscribe his multi-faceted identity. And I’m not talking about being mixed-race here, which of course he is. I’m talking about the cultural hybridity that has typified every aspect of his life.
President Barack Obama was prescient in that he defined himself, through his books, well before he was debated on the national stage. The act of constant autobiography, which we now see in the form of everything from books to Twitter, is part of what makes the Age of Obama sing. It’s also a little scary. I have years of private diaries and journals, and I’m really glad I didn’t face the pressure some teens do now to make their every moment public before they spend time understanding themselves.