Kiley Reid discusses her 2020 Booker Prize longlisted novel, Such A Fun Age.

Debut novelist Kiley Reid on being fascinated with transactional relationships and why she decided to write Such a Fun Age as a satire.

Publication date and time: Published

How does it feel to have your debut novel longlisted for The Booker Prize? 

I’m completely thrilled to have Such A Fun Age on the Booker Prize longlist. It’s a complete delight to have your work read and received in this way, and it’s a wonderful source of motivation as I begin on novel number two. 

Such A Fun Age demonstrates how moments of conflict can change people’s lives. What about this notion interested you? 

I’m fascinated by transactional relationships, and how they often operate with feelings of ownership, and much of the conflict in this novel centers around these perceptions. The modern day logistics of money and time, especially with domestic work, bring themes of ownership and our history of slavery to the forefront. I also love when seemingly mundane conflicts can quickly shift alliances; a boss delighting in their newfound power and ability to ‘help,’ or a three-year-old going back and forth between which grown-up is her favorite. I wanted to keep the conflict low to the ground and uncomfortable, as that is how racism commonly shows up. 

Black Lives Matter has brought the issue of race in the U.S. into sharp focus in recent months. Do you feel that this has affected the way people have received your novel? 

In response to police brutality, many readers naturally feel lost and have turned to Black art. I’m so glad to see so many talented Black artists receive more attention, but I’ve also noticed a tendency to treat Black art solely as a pedagogical opportunity. It’s quite strange to write a novel that delights in plot while examining the emptiness of conscious consumerism, only to watch it become celebrated, in certain corners, as a route to self-improvement. Sometimes a story’s timeliness is due to the fact that this may be the first time that readers are reconciling with its reality. The first chapter of this novel depicts an act of racial bias that is caught on camera, and the filming of the incident is what makes the story modern. But the dynamics that follow, and the issues of ownership between a white mother and a Black caretaker, have been constants throughout America’s history. 

Kiley Reid

Working through a lens of satire allows me to have more empathy for my characters

— Kiley Reid

Why did you decide to tell this story as a satire? 

Paul Harding, one of my professors in graduate school, always said that the job of a writer was not so much to tell a story, but to explain life’s moments so accurately that they become almost haunting. I wanted to achieve this level of accuracy in Such A Fun Age and it became impossible not to satirise the systems that drove the characters’ behaviour, whether it was “diversity” as perceived by the liberal elite, or how feminism operates under capitalism.  

I also think that working through a lens of satire allows me to have more empathy for my characters. I see them and their actions as symptoms of history and broken systems, and it gives me the freedom to grant them big wins on some pages and let them behave quite poorly on others. An even hand was also important in terms of poking fun at the bourgeoisie. I wanted a novel that even one of the most harmful characters would pick up and enjoy. 

What can we expect from you next? 

I’m slowly at work on novel number two, which currently means more reading than writing.