“People always say, ‘What made you want to write about race?’” says writer Kiley Reid. “I personally feel like you cannot theme your way into a plot. It has to be the other way around.”
Reid’s first novel, Such a Fun Age was an instant New York Times bestseller when it debuted at the top of 2020; now available in paperback, the story has been optioned for development by Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions. Intertwining conflicts of class, race and privilege, its narrative, focused on the experiences of a young millennial Black babysitter employed by a well-off white family while also navigating her first interracial relationship, preempted the racial reckoning that would drive home many of its themes. But as Reid tells us during this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, “For me, it always starts with people. It’s the people who really, really get me hooked into something.”
For some, Reid’s nuanced portrayals and loaded dynamics might naturally garner comparisons to another fictional bestseller-turned-film centering the class conflicts of childcare-based domestic work, 2002's The Nanny Diaries. Nevertheless, the timing of her debut and its added layer of how race further complicates those intimate dynamics coincided with a watershed moment in the ongoing movement for Black lives. As a result, despite being fiction, Such a Fun Age was among several books readers turned to en masse as they sought deeper insight into race relations in America. Reid’s response to that phenomenon is as thoughtful and layered as her writing.
“You know, so many Black authors and artists had to contend with the fact that—last year and still this year—that what brings people to their art are horrendous murders,” she says. “And as an artist, I feel you do not get to choose how people come to your art. And I don’t think you should be picky about that, either. And I think it’s a very human emotion to say, ‘I’m panicking, what do I do? Let me read a book.’ That’s beautiful.
“At the same time, Black authors such as myself have to contend with the fact that your book is playing a role in what is a lie that is presented, that consumption can just cure racism. And that’s just not true; you cannot consume your way out of a racist environment and system. And so it’s difficult to sometimes see your book as a balm for people, especially when you didn’t create it to tell white people something or teach them something,” she continues. “[I]magine going to a museum and looking at a picture and being like, ‘Make me good...teach me how to be.’ That’s not how you enjoy art. And so I think that a lot of Black authors are contending with the fact that people aren’t enjoying their art the way that they once thought they would.”
Hear more from the insightful Kiley Reid in Episode 40 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Kiley Reid Takes Us Through ‘Such a Fun Age’, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.