“The Other Black Girl” is a novel that tells the story of a young woman who must navigate her identity as she travels from America to Africa. Zakiya Dalila Harris is an American writer. She is the author of The Other Black Girl which was published in 2016.
(CBS News) — Author Zakiya Dalila Harris will be the first to tell you that a lot can happen in a few years. She was an editor in publishing two years ago, and now, due to her amazing first book, “The Other Black Girl,” she is a New York Times bestseller. The book was chosen by book clubs at the New York Public Library and Good Morning America, and it has had a huge impact on audiences throughout the nation.
The story follows two Black women called Nella and Hazel as they navigate the mostly white world of New York book publishing. The novel has been compared to “Get Out” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” DJ Sixsmith of CBS Local spoke with Harris about how she went from leaving her career in publishing to becoming a best-selling book, as well as what she wanted to convey about racism and privilege.
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“I can’t believe how well that went. It was something I never expected to happen. In 2019, I had just left my job and spent two and a half or three years working in book publishing, which is very much what inspired this book in a lot of ways,” Harris said. “I was an editing assistant for a time before being promoted to assistant editor, and I was very thrilled about it and the prospect of having more responsibility and working on all of the Black novels, but I was also burnt out. I got the concept for this book in January of this year, and I simply began writing it after that.”
“When I was writing this book, the first thing that came to mind was Nella and Hazel, these two Black women who work in this very white workplace, and what it was like to have this urge to be a community, at least on Nella’s part, and to also have this pressure of feeling like they have to be a community because they are the two Black people at the office,” Harris said. “It’s a truism that we’re all meant to assist each other out and nod at other Black people while we’re in the same place, particularly if there are mainly white people present. There’s also the feeling that there can only be one of us since there are so few of us working in so many different sectors. What I was actually interested in were those two contradictory truisms.”
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Harris intended to use her book to examine a variety of subtleties in discussions about Black hair, as well as the pressure to speak for all Black people all of the time. When Nella is at a meeting with her employer and a renowned author, she is asked to offer her judgment on his work, one of the most interesting moments in the story occurs. The editing assistant is torn between remaining quiet and criticizing the author for the book’s disturbing portrayals of Black people.
“What is the most effective method to effect change? Do you sit quietly and try to fit into the system, hoping to eventually draw more people in, or do you speak out and say whatever is on your mind?” Harris said. “For someone who works in this sort of atmosphere, and I’ve worked in it myself, being an entry-level employee and really caring about your status and making sure you’re on the road to advancement and being an editor, It’s a huge responsibility. I wanted to portray all of Nella’s internal struggles. Writing it was both intense and soothing. It delves into topics that we don’t frequently discuss.”
Harris’ book is now accessible wherever books are sold. Zakiya Dalila Harris is an author, activist and educator. Her debut novel The Other Black Girl was published in 2018. Reference: zakiya dalila harris sister.