Recommendations from books by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Nicole Mondestin Photography
Welcome to the lifespan, The books section of ELLE.com, in which the authors share their most memorable readings. Whether you’re looking for a book to console you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers of our series who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will become one of yours as well.
Writing in a logbook since the age of six to co-write the television adaptation of his recently released debut novel, The other black girl (Atria), with Rashida Jones for Hulu, Zakiya Dalila Harris has always lived through words and stories. (Her father is a writer and journalism professor; her older sister animates NPR pop culture Podcast.)
Now the New York Times The origin story of the bestseller is well known: Harris, an associate editor at her predominantly white workplace of Knopf Doubleday, meets another black girl in the women’s toilet, but she doesn’t return curiosity or l openness to Harris’ connection. When she returns to her desk, she begins writing about two black women navigating the predominantly white workplace in Wagner Books, with a touch of horror / sci-fi (influences include Come out, Night of the living dead, Black Horror, Octavia E. Butler, Black mirror, and Who passed, whose author Nella Larsen inspired TOBGthe name of the protagonist). Within months, she quit her job to work full time on the book which sparked a bidding war. And Aja Naomi King voiced the audiobook!
Harris, whose first name is swahili for “smart,” was born and raised in Connecticut, attended UNC in Chapel Hill, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She previously worked in a cupcake shop, pie shop, and ice cream shop; written first by hand; was co-head painter on his high school film crew; co-animates the Dramatic Podcast of the Dead Writer; and lives with her fiance in Brooklyn. Likes: cinnamon, anti-stress Yogi Kava tea, Wrap life head wraps, Cheez-Its, Research group, the Still processing podcast, and Bill Withers’ “Still Bill” as the writing soundtrack. Dislikes: being photographed, being cold, eggs (by themselves) and ketchup.
The book that …
… made me cry uncontrollably:
The most fun we’ve ever had by Claire Lombardo. Everything in this great family saga had me deeply anchored in my feelings, but the relationship of Marilyn and David particularly destroyed me.
… I recommend again and again:
Opal & Nev’s final rebirth by Dawnie Walton. You don’t have to be a rock ‘n’ roll or oral history fan to fall for this book, but I am, so I especially liked it. Plus, Walton illustrates the story of fictional rock ‘n’ roll musician Opal Jewel so well that you’ll swear it was real.
… I swear that I will finish one day:
Roots: The saga of an American family by Alex Haley. I started it, and I always wanted to finish it, but it’s so long! So far, I’m glad I saw the TV show.
… Is currently sitting on my bedside table:
This summer by Jennifer Weiner. It’s summer, it’s beautifully written, they’re imperfect and complicated women, and I love to get lost in them.
… made me laugh out loud:
Bossypants by Tina Fey. His voice shines through in every anecdote and story, and it is truly a pleasure to read.
… I would like to transform into a Netflix show:
A choice of weapons by Gordon Parks. Parks has had such an interesting life and career trajectory, and it would be interesting to see how he went from his childhood on a farm to that of an award-winning writer, photographer and filmmaker.
… I bought for the last time:
How the word went: A balance sheet with the history of slavery across America by Clint Smith. I had the opportunity to read the proposal for this book when I was working in publishing, and it blew me away then. Can’t wait to read the full book and finished now.
… has the best title:
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Killing Vampires by Grady Hendrix. “From South”? “Reading Club”? “Vampires”? Yes please.
… Has the best opening line:
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know it yet. Of Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng. I cheated and gave you two lines, but you really can’t have one without the other! Are the openings better than this?
… Should appear on every university program:
The heat of other suns: The epic story of the great American migration by Isabelle Wilkerson. It’s so beautifully written and so historically significant.
… I consider literary comfort food:
I feel bad about my neck: and other thoughts about being a woman by Nora Ephron. Ephron transforms even the most everyday of subjects into literary magic.
… gives me the impression of being seen:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She portrays so well the nuances that exist within the black diaspora; In addition, each sentence is a work of art.
… Presents the coolest cover:
Chandelier by Raven Leilani. The ambience of the cover – shimmering, fluorescent and charged – says a lot about the vibe of the book.
… everyone should read:
Notes from an Aboriginal son by James Baldwin. Everyone should read at least one book by Baldwin in their lifetime, and if they only read one book, it should be this one.
… surprised me:
Kinship by Octavia E. Butler. I first read it as a teenager, and while I really enjoyed a few of the books I had to read in high school, this one left an impression on me. Until Kinship, I had never read about slavery through the prism of science fiction and Butler performs it brilliantly.
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