Plotting Power: Race, Class and Gender in Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age
Interview by Henry Jacob, Yale 21'
Transcription by Grace Blaxill, Yale 22'
YHR: A knot of desire links Alex, Emira, and Kelley. Alex and Kelley’s use of the word “crush” and “love” reveal this connection. I will draw four quotations to make this triangle more visible. A month after the grocery store incident, “Alix had developed feelings toward Emira that weren’t completely unlike a crush.” In a similar vein, Kelley defends his conduct at the Thanksgiving table by noting that, “This isn’t me having some unresolved high school crush or grudge.” When Alex visits Emira in her apartment she thinks in her head, “ Jesus Christ, I love this girl.” Interestingly, Kelley tells Alex shortly before this scene that “I’m in love with Emira.” Emira feels far less comfortable with the L word. As you write, “Emira didn’t love anything, but she didn’t terribly mind doing anything either.” Emira has complicated relationships —neither crush nor love captures it—with Mrs. Chamberlain and Kelley. How did you tie this knot of desire between these three characters?
Kiley Reid: I see it in a number of ways. Emira is a really thoughtful person. She needs a little bit of time to understand what she's thinking, but when she does need to communicate those things she can do it really well. Kelley’s and Alex’s and fascination and use of words like “crush” and “love” symbolize what they seek to receive from Emira. But Emira wants a paycheck and a boyfriend, maybe just for one night, maybe more, she's not sure. Both ask Emira for emotional labor that she shouldn't be required to give them. Alex is really lonely. Alex hopes Emira will become a friend and take care of her child. Emira also struggles with Kelley when they have sex for the first time. She asks herself, “Is this okay? Am I okay? Are we okay?” Emira knows that Black women are over-sexualized so she doesn't want to give herself fully into this moment. go into her calculated moves with showing people she loves them or cares about them and when. After all, Emira only tells Briar she loves her when she knows she's going to leave. Like many Black women, Emira gives her heart out sparingly because she doesn't want to get hurt.
She’s also Sagittarius. She’s a very forgiving person.
YHR: I am Libra, so I am very indecisive. Let’s move forward to these moments of discomfort. Emira navigates through white spaces time and time again. How do you use Emira’s experiences in these situations to reveal the significance of less noticeable moments of racism?
Kiley Reid: We see examples of cartoon racism through Twitter, Instagram, wherever we get our news. racism often manifests itself in small ways, which results in Black people dissociating dissociating. When you're in a meeting, when you're on a date, you have moments of, “Okay, do I want to ruin this entire night? Do I not want to get this promotion? Do I want to say something?” I tried to incorporate those moments and make the story as realistic as possible.
Black women, especially those in domestic care roles, understand that a lot of racism emerges in this low-to-the-ground level. After reading the book plenty of people say, “Alex shouldn't have said this sentence and that is the problem,” rather than noticing that systems lie at the base of this behavior. As a writer, I love to take huge socio-economic issues and whittle them down to almost petty moments. I find those instances delicious. I want my readers to go to bed thinking, “What did she mean by that?”