Such a Fun Age author Kiley Reid on the awkward politics of race, class and white allyship

Reid's bestselling debut novel tells the story of a Black babysitter, her white employer, and how their lives become intertwined.
Kiley Reid's debut novel, Such a Fun Age, is out now. (Twitter, @kileyreid/G.P. Putnam's Sons)

Originally published on March 12, 2020

Kiley Reid's bestselling debut novel, Such a Fun Age, is an insightful and compelling examination of race, class and work in the 21st century — and it's already been purchased for a big screen adaptation.

The story begins with a 25-year-old Black woman named Emira Tucker, who's accused of kidnapping a white child in a high-end Philadelphia grocery store. A passing shopper films Emira's exchange with the store's security guard on his phone, and the young woman is only allowed to leave the store after the child's white father arrives and explains that she's the babysitter.

"I was really interested in crafting these incidences that don't end in violence, but still include a lot of trauma and the mental gymnastics of dealing with how to be a Black person in white spaces," Reid told q guest host Talia Schlanger on the line from Philadelphia. 

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement as well as her own experiences as a babysitter (although the story is not autobiographical), Reid wanted her novel to tackle "big socioeconomic issues" through a domestic lens because "those are the instances that we often think about before we go to bed at night."

While Such a Fun Age does take aim at heavy subject matter, it's done with a lot of humour and levity.

"I do believe that whenever race and class become issues that we naturally try to lighten the moment with a joke," said Reid. "That's where a lot of the awkwardness comes from — pushing away those topics because we don't want to believe in them."

One of the major themes of the book is how different people perceive the same situation. Emira's white employer, Alix, and her white boyfriend, Kelly, both see themselves as allies, but despite their best intentions, they're often oblivious to the effects of their own actions. 

"I would love for readers to look at what their exact impact is versus the intent," said Reid. "I think the goal is not, can I as one person be as good as I can, but rather, what would actually make change for the people that need it?"

Before Such a Fun Age even hit bookshelves, filmmaker and producer Lena Waithe snapped up the screen rights to the novel, which she called "a unique, honest portrayal of what it's like to be a Black woman in America today."

"I lost my mind, I was so excited," said Reid, who will be executive producing the film. "So far everyone is so open and wanting to keep the spirit of the novel alive. So yeah, so far, so good."

Click the 'Listen' link near the top of this page to hear the full conversation with Kiley Reid.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by ​Chris Trowbridge.


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