A Conversation with Kiley Reid about Such a Fun Age

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. 

  

Kiley Reid
Photo © David Goddard

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. Putnam spoke with Kiley Reid about her real-life experiences that inspired the novel, writing the film adaptation of Such a Fun Age, and what she hopes readers take away from the book.

 

When did you first know you were a writer/storyteller?

I’ve been filling notebooks with stories for as long as I can remember. I also carried around a baby-name book to read when I got bored, which I believe is often an indication of a future writer. The simple answer is that I’ve always been obsessed with storytelling. I knew I was a writer around age 23.

 

What was it about your own nanny/babysitting experience that encouraged or inspired you to immortalize it in this exciting and deeply moving novel?

Something that inspired me was witnessing how much intelligence and independence children and toddlers have at such a young age. I’m also interested in complicated relationships, and the babysitter/child/mother dynamic is definitely one of them. I think relationships that can’t happen without an exchange of goods are fascinating, and I’ve always been intrigued by emotional labor. And when these types of relationships are set up, especially when children are involved, an immediate pressure cooker of time is placed on them because the children won’t need them forever. When will it end, how will it end, who will end it...I love the push that time crunch places on a story.

 

How much of Such a Fun Age is autobiographical?

 While none of this novel is autobiographical, I’d like to think the experiences are based in truth of circumstance. All of the characters, especially the children, were crafted from experiencing so many different personalities while I was babysitting. Emira and I are very different (I’m hyper organized in a way she isn’t, but she’s also many leagues cooler than I am) but we both share a love of taking care of children and treating them like adults.

 

Like countless victims of non-brutal discrimination that occurs every day, Emira is the victim of racial profiling while on the job caring for her white boss’s two-year-old. It’s a pivotal scene that triggers life-altering events. What do you hope readers take away from that scene?

I hope readers take away the feeling of a low-to-the-ground and domestic terror, that it can and does happen everywhere. That these moments aren’t self-contained and continue to shape everyone involved, particularly the African Americans who have to mentally carry the event with them to every job and grocery story from that time on.

 

Like the book’s vivid principal players, its supporting characters are indelible, from perceptive little Briar to Emira’s tell-it-like-it-is best friend Zara and even Peter Chamberlain’s well-meaning co-anchor Laney Thacker. How do you consistently help them leap off the page?

One thing I tell my students to do is something I try to do myself in my writing, which is giving every character a win at some point in the story. To find out what very nice and helpful thing that character would do, and then have them do it. Whether it’s paying for someone’s coffee or complimenting someone’s dress, having empathy for every character humanizes them, and also makes their less perfect moments appear more charged and real.

 

While earning your Master of Fine Arts degree at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop you were awarded the Truman Capote Fellowship. How has this experience changed you?

The Truman Capote Fellowship was vital in the completion of this novel. It definitely changed the way I see the writing process, and further enforced beliefs I held before grad school in that time is always a writer’s greatest gift.

 

Emmy-winning writer/producer Lena Waithe, one of the most influential young voices in Hollywood right now, snapped up the film and TV rights to the book before publication. What was your first reaction? Will you have a creative role moving forward?

I was completely floored and quickly grateful as she and her team are incredibly kind, brilliant, and protective of both me and my work. I’m currently drafting the film adaptation alongside the producers and it’s a wonderful and challenging experience.

 

As a writer, what’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Jess Walter said to write to your obsessions, which sounds obvious, but I think it is extremely worth exploring and admitting your tendencies as a writer, and using empathy to make readers obsessed with them too.

 

Are there specific authors you have found particularly inspiring?

Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny has really stuck with me and I found her very quiet take on class dynamics incredibly inspiring. I keep Joy William’s 99 Stories Of God under my bed because I love it. I also recently enjoyed Heads of Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires.

 

What do you hope readers take away from this novel?

First, I just hope readers love the story. I hope they forget about whatever they’re doing and get wrapped up in the characters and experience that ‘what’s gonna happen?!’ feeling that I love to experience while reading. Second, I hope the novel works as both a gateway and a mirror; that readers can therefore become interested in reading about all types of characters, ones of various races and incomes, and that this book can gently nudge readers to stop, look inward, and say, “Yikes. I do that, too.”

 

What’s next for you?

My husband and I recently moved to Philadelphia. I’ll continue to work on the film adaptation, and one day, a second novel.
 



“One of the most anticipated novels of the season.” Marie Claire
 

“In her debut novel, Reid illuminates difficult truths about race, society, and power with a fresh, light hand. We're all familiar with the phrases white privilege and race relations, but rarely has a book vivified these terms in such a lucid, absorbing, graceful, forceful, but unforced way.” Library Journal (starred review)

 





Click to Watch Kiley Reid Speak to Librarians about Such a Fun Age.

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Click to Read an Excerpt of Such a Fun Age.







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