Zakiya Dalila Harris on Fictionalizing the Publishing Industry from the Inside
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On microaggressions and whiteness in publishing:
ZDH: I think a lot about Nella and how her race and the way she perceives the world really affects the way we perceive the story through her eyes, but I also know that working as an editorial assistant or any entry level position comes with [so many jobs]. You have to be a therapist, you have to know how to read people, you have to meet demands from every single person, from wonderful production people all the way to front-facing things. So you’re constantly doing this kind of managing of expectations no matter who you are. When you take that and add all of the microaggressions, and the sheer knowledge of looking at the other people and not seeing anyone who looks like you, even if you don’t constantly think about it, it’s something your body knows. Something underneath your facade no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you try to tune it out. You’re aware that something is wrong with this space.
On whose job it is to speak up:
MK: One of the things I’m encouraged by is seeing employees come together to call out publishers on bad business decisions. The question that just about everyone is grappling with right now is who is required to speak up when something very evil is being published? I always feel sorry for the employees who have to do the organizing because they’re in the most vulnerable positions.
ZDH: I agree.
MK: And, of course, the authors, too. I want to say this explicitly: it’s not your job.
ZDH: I know. And I think that with my book I definitely had that in the forefront of my mind. Just as Nella thinks “Should I speak up? Why do I have to do this? Why is this my responsibility?” The answers to those questions are very difficult. It’s emotionally taxing, especially when you’re trying to do a job or trying to publish your first novel. It’s tricky.
On vibing with Nella Larsen:
ZDH: When I was starting to write this book I was reading Passing by Nella Larsen for the very first time. I didn’t realize exactly when I started reading that book and writing my own book, but re-reading Passing now I realized I was really channeling a vibe—gaslighting to the highest power.
Zakiya Dalila Harris spent nearly three years in editorial at Knopf/Doubleday before leaving to write her debut novel The Other Black Girl. Prior to working in publishing, Zakiya received her MFA in creative writing from The New School. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in Guernica and The Rumpus. She lives in Brooklyn.
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