Zakiya Dalila Harris Always Knew the Ending for ‘The Other Black Girl’


I really wanted to get at those spaces of unspoken subtext and microaggressions. I think of it this way: when I go into small stores or really any store, I always make sure my hands are out of my pockets. I say hi to the shop owner because I don’t want to be seen or assumed that I’m going to steal something. 

Do you feel like there’s a way to better convey that to white people without hitting that defensive wall?

That’s a hard question. I think you need to listen to the person who’s being affected by it. They can’t exactly put into words what it is, but there’s a feeling. There are a lot of things that we can’t put into words. I also struggle with sensitivity readers as an idea because I understand it completely and I do think it’s better in most cases, but I also cringe against the idea of making a certain person be the person who decides this is okay.

That’s interesting that you mention the weight of Blackness because isn’t that essentially what the grease is supposed to lift?

Exactly.

We don’t necessarily know what was going through Nella’s mind when she gave into the grease. Was that a conscious choice of hers?

This is another question I don’t get asked. I wonder if it’s because it’s a spoiler, but I love talking about it because I do think it’s really important. I was revising that scene last summer, which was when I had edits back at my desk. It was George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and COVID-19, obviously. Everything was happening. I was in a particularly not-great space. Mentally, I felt betrayed. I felt hopeless. I felt numb. I felt a lot of feelings about what was going on. So that scene where Hazel is telling Nella, “Don’t you want to be free?” That scene was me taking my own personality and my own perspective of what it was like to work on my book and feel like it mattered when on the other side of it, people that are dying.

I want to talk about the Hulu adaptation for a second. That’s really exciting!

I can’t believe it.

That last Hulu adaptation I saw was Little Fires Everywhere.

So good.

I read that book—by Celeste Ng—and then watched the adaptation. They did a good job at making necessary tweaks. I know you’re a co-writer on the show, too. Are you prepared to sacrifice some parts of the story?

At the beginning I was like, I didn’t do this to get a TV show. I don’t know how this would work. But, the more we talked about it, I could see it. There is a lot I had to cut. And the end—there’s just so many places it could go if the story and the show were to [continue]. We’ve been talking about plans if it were to go past one season. Wagner Books is so rich for storylines.

What’s your dream casting?

I go back and forth. I feel like I give different answers every single time. I could see Keke Palmer. I could see KiKi Lane for both Nella and Hazel. They’re both the same dial turned a slightly different way. Angela Bassett … I feel like it’s clear from the book that I love Angela Bassett. I could see her as [other characters] Diana or Kendra Ray, especially Kendra Ray. She could have any role.

What’s next for you?

I can spread myself a little too thin sometimes with projects, so I really just taking it in and working on the Hulu adaptation and getting to spend more time with the characters in that way. But, definitely planning to write another book and planning for it to be about Black characters in the U.S..

Lastly, between the bidding war and a true taste of financial success, how does it feel to have a bit of a cushion?

It’s a big relief. Money was very, very, very tight before the book, even with my partner sharing the rent. So, the advance was huge. It also allowed my partner and I to move out of our tiny studio and into an apartment that had real rooms and doors. Now we’re owners, whereas two years ago, I would never have imagined ever being able to own anything.

Paulina Jayne Isaac is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. You can follow her on Instagram @paulinajayne15.

“The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris





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