Papier Passions

Papier Book Club: 12 Questions with Zakiya Dalila Harris

The author of The Other Black Girl and Papier Book Club guest answers our bookish questions.

Images

Nicole Mondestin

We’re excited to announce that Papier has launched its very own Book Club to spark a conversation around some of the most exciting new literary voices. Our first is with Zakiya Dalila Harris whose much-lauded debut novel The Other Black Girl is a tense, twisting tale of two young Black women meeting against the starkly white backdrop of book publishing.

She'll be in conversation with Kenya Hunt, Deputy Editor of Grazia and author of Girl: Essays on Black Womanhood on Thursday 17th June 2021. Tickets are free and available here.

In the lead up to each Papier Book Club, we'll be asking our authors a set of bookish questions.

What’s the book you always gift to friends?
I don’t usually gift books to friends—I feel that’s a bit risky!—but if I were to gift a book to a friend, I think I’d gift them a story collection like Nafissa Thompson-Spire’s Heads of the Colored People, or Stephen King’s Night Shift.

Which book have you reread the most? Kindred by Octavia Butler. I first read it in high school for an African-American Literature class, and then read it again while I was working on edits for The Other Black Girl. It’s timeless, really, and such a page-turner!

Which book reminds you of home?
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Even though the protagonist is Nigerian and I’m from Connecticut, I can relate to Ifemelu and the conversations in the novel revolving around blackness, hair, and Americanness. Plus, I grew up about fifteen minutes away from Yale, where Ifemelu goes to university, so this book feels especially close to home.

What are you reading at the moment?
All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris, The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., and Survive the Night by Riley Sager. Three very different books, but all fully engrossing.

What are your reading habits like?
I like to read multiple books at once, because how else would I get to read everything? Morning is generally the best time for me to read, before I look at my phone or start checking email. Waking up and going straight into a book almost always keeps me more focused.

What was your path to becoming an author?
I’ve wanted to write ever since I was a kid. I spent a lot of time writing stories in my notebooks and then, once I learned how to type, I would transcribe those stories onto our computer. When I was twelve, I stumbled upon a writing contest in American Girl magazine calling for readers to write a story accompanying the illustration they’d given. I entered the contest on my own; a few months later, we discovered that I’d won, and my story appeared in the May/June 2006 issue of the magazine.

When it came time for me to go to college, I decided to major in English Literature, and minor in creative writing. From there, I did my MFA in creative writing, where I focused on nonfiction. I’d really wanted to do fiction, but I’d been waitlisted—and now, I’m glad I was, because many of the essays I wrote for my thesis ended up finding their way into The Other Black Girl.

What is the importance of telling stories?
Humans spend so much time in their own heads—on cell phones, on computers, on social media—but nothing is quite the same as being told a story. You really have to be present while reading or listening to a story, which is kind of a big deal given how short of an attention span our society generally has today. In my opinion, no matter how technologically advanced we get, there will always be a need for them.

How would you describe your writing process in five words?
Writing by hand is best.

Which 3 other authors or literary characters would you choose as housemates?
This is hard. I feel like some of my favourite characters and authors are ones who I wouldn’t want to live with! But after some thought, I’ll say Opal from Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, Mrs. Pollifax from Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, and Beneatha from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. They’re all pretty quirky, and bold, and I think they’d be fun to chat with in the kitchen.

If you weren’t an author, what would you like to be?
A DJ. I could go through song catalogs for hours, and I could spend days creating playlists for this or that occasion.

What’s your most treasured piece of stationery?
This might be weird, but I still have stationery from my time in publishing. I didn’t want to waste it after I quit, so I still use it around the house for miscellaneous things. I also like using the stationery because it reminds me of how far I’ve come.

Beside books, what other cultural things are you currently enjoying?
I have been watching a lot of television: Good Girls, Search Party, South Side, and the YouTube TV show Hot Ones, where celebrities have to eat increasingly spicy hot wings on camera while answering questions. I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts: NPR’s On Our Watch, The New York Times’s Still Processing, and Black Girl Songbook.


Watch Zakiya in conversation with Kenya Hunt at the Papier Book Club. And get yourself a copy of The Other Black Girl here. (But don't panic, it's not necessary to have read it to attend the Book Club.)