Writers’ Workshop alumnus shares writing process and inspiration for bestselling novel “Such a Fun Age”

For three years, Kiley Reid, a former Iowa Writers’ Workshop, worked in an office as a receptionist. Today, she is the New York Times bestselling author of “Such a Fun Age,” a novel that satirizes white people’s pursuit of enlightenment.

Embarrassing situations, racist remarks and class in America; these are all aspects of modern culture that author Kiley Reid wanted to explore when she started writing her first novel in 2019, Such a fun age, a fictional novel that examines both effectively and subtly current forms of racism in America.

Now a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Reid has gone on to become a New York Times Best-selling author whose novel was named Best Book of the Year by NPR, Vogue, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and many others. The rights to the novel have been acquired by Hillman Grad Productions from Lena Waithe and Sight Unseen for a film adaptation, although a release date for the film has not been announced.

Such a fun age follows a 25-year-old black woman named Emira, who works as a nanny for a white family before embarking on “a real job.” Not far in the novel, Emira is accused of kidnapping the child she is feeding while the two are in an upscale Philadelphia grocery store. The story intensifies as the characters navigate the situation and continue to face countless other uncomfortable situations.

Reid was planning to become an actress after graduating from Marymount Manhattan University with a bachelor’s degree. Reid said she had always loved writing, but considered it more of a hobby. It wasn’t until after graduation, in the midst of one of the biggest breaks in her acting career – a paid $ 500 ad – where Reid said she felt like Kris Jenner. At that point, she realized that acting out wasn’t the most authentic storytelling for her. She wanted to be the one writing the stories.

Photo provided by Kiley Reid.

With his newfound understanding, Reid ventured into his freshly chosen career path as a writer. For three years she worked as a receptionist, coming home to submit her stories to literary journals and write tirelessly. She then applied to the doctoral school for two years in a row. In the first year, she received nine rejection letters. But in the second year, she got nine acceptances.

Nestled among this new pile of acceptance letters was one from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which Reid ultimately decided to accept due to her scholarship and stipend potential, her sophomore teaching program. and the calm that a place like Iowa City offers writers.

Related: Felicia Rose Chavez, Author and UI Alumnus, Presents ‘The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop’ During Prairie Lights Virtual Reading

“The silence; the cost of living,” Reid said. “I used to live near the cemetery, write and walk, and there’s something about being in nature and finding a lot of calm that really helps me get my thoughts in order. So I would say Iowa has been a big help and it’s just a really cool place to write and really foster creativity.

Now a program alumnus with an impressive collection of short stories and a nationally acclaimed novel, Reid has gone on to write and teach students at Temple University. Reid said picking up a red pen for other people’s work helps him do the same with his own. With years of experience under her belt, she offered some advice to young writers.

“I think something that I would have liked to learn a bit earlier is that part of writing is being very comfortable with your writing,” she said. “When it’s not good, posting it on the page is what helps you make it better. So many times you have this great idea. You go home to write it down, and you write it down and you’re like, “Oh my God, that’s garbage,” and that’s what it is, then. That doesn’t mean it will be that way forever.

Reid also emphasized that for a novel to be lasting, the content that a writer deals with must be endlessly exciting and interesting to them. Reid calls this ‘follow your obsessions’, a mantra that has propelled her to success with Such a fun age and continues to be a driving force in its current efforts. Reid said there’s an aspect of the heart in writing that is always clear to her – an energy that distinguishes good writing from bad. When you read a story and can tell the author they need to tell it, there is a palpable sense of fire and wit under the words on the page.

Some of Reid’s “obsessions” throughout his writing Such a fun age were issues of class and race, working with female characters and “making things as awkward as possible”. Her next novel will retain many of those same ideas, but she said her interests are growing and taking new forms every day.

The process of writing his new work of fiction by Reid has also evolved. In an effort to produce a true novel that turns the pages, Reid used a new method of writing that involves writing everything by hand, with each paragraph or line on a different card that she then arranges and structures as he sees fit. seems.

Related: Iowa City Author’s Novel To Be Adapted To Cinema Starring Amy Adams

“All of my fiction is pretty story-driven, so there’s a lot of structuring, listing and ordering of events,” Reid said. “… So there is a certain structure, but sometimes when I start writing a scene I just write down whatever I think could potentially happen in that scene. It’s very messy. Looks like I cracked up a bit.

In addition to writing and teaching, Reid also works as an executive producer for the film adaptation of Such a fun age. Filming for the film takes place in the location of the book, Philadelphia, the charming and exciting city that Reid said she hopes to make several screen appearances.

The author also added that she hopes Emira’s relaxed personality and her effortless way with children will remain evident in the film.

“I’m very excited to let the experts do what they do best, and also to weigh in to keep the spirit of the novel alive,” she said. “It’s great to work with both teams and I can’t wait to see how this story will be told on screen.”

According to Harvard Review, one of the most alluring aspects of Reid’s storytelling in Such a fun age is its ability to speak out on racial issues without creating overtly racist situations. While the plot centers around a more egregious racist event, the racism in the book also manifests in more nuanced ways, such as through the off-putting pursuits of an educated white character from “waking up” and the ill-defined moments of microphone. -aggression and ignorance.

“There is a very thin line of balance between portraying something that is nuanced, yet familiar. And that’s what I’m really looking for in writing, ”said Reid. “When you read something and you say, ‘Oh my God, I never thought of it that way’, but it’s just like that, like it’s so specific it feels new, it’s the times that I really, really love. “

Scott R. Banks