The Week (US)

Zakiya Dalila Harris


Zakiya Dalila Harris is having the last laugh at the expense of the industry she walked away from two years ago, said Elizabeth Harris in The New York Times. Harris, 28, had frequently been the only Black person in the room at publishing giant Knopf Doubleday when she began writing a novel at her desk to lampoon the industry’s tokenism. A mere year later, 14 publishers bid on Harris’ horror thriller, with the winner, Atria, paying more than $1 million for a book now expected to be one of the hits of the summer. The plot of The Other Black Girl centers on a rivalry that arises between a character like Harris and a second young Black woman hired into a similar position. From the start, the pair modify how they speak and interact because they are occupying a white world. “Of course there’s code switching,” Harris says. “But it’s not just that.”

Harris’ novel, which is already being adapted for a Hulu series, is “best described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Get Out,” said Seija Rankin in The competitio­n between the protagonis­t and the new hire takes a sinister turn early on, but the horror ultimately is rooted in the work environmen­t. “I was also really happy with the way that publishing reacted to the book,” Harris says. “Because I didn’t know if the industry was going to be ready to really look at themselves.” She had been careful to ensure that none of the white characters closely resembled any real-life individual­s. But that was less an effort to be polite than to help white readers see themselves. “I didn’t want readers to be like, ‘Oh, that’s definitely that person, and I never would do anything like that.’”

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