Author Kiley Reid was signing copies of her book, "Such a Fun Age," at Antigone Books in January after giving a talk there. As fans lined up for signatures, Reid recognized more than half of them, popping up each time to hug an old friend, teacher, classmate or roommate.
That’s what happens when your book lands on the New York Times best-seller list and the book tour takes you home.
Reid lived in Tucson from the ages of 7 to 20, graduating from Salpointe High School and attending the University of Arizona for two years.
She transferred to Marymount Manhattan in New York because she was still doing theater and thought New York City would be the best place for that.
Reid will be back in March for the Tucson Festival of Books, participating in two author panels.
“I did love my experience at the UA, but I was looking for the opposite of that. I was looking for a smaller school in a bigger city,” she said after her book signing at Antigone. Reid now lives in Philadelphia but enjoys returning “home.”
After working and doing some writing, she applied to nine schools for graduate studies and was rejected by all of them. With a year to decide if graduate school was the route she wanted to take, she spent the time writing. She then applied to graduate schools again and was accepted by all nine.
She thinks the quality of her writing improved in that year. “I think just having time to work on my writing made all the difference.”
“Such a Fun Age” is Reid’s first published novel. She says, “There were four or five novels before that (that have not been published).”
When writing, the story is Reid’s first priority. She loves storytelling and making plot points familiar but surprising.
“I always start with characters,” she said. “But I have to love those characters. I find I don’t like my writing when it’s polemic, but I love modern-day storytelling. I was really thrilled to have a story that makes people want to turn the page and read one more chapter.”
She now writes full-time, which she says is strange since she often worked more than one job before, choosing work that gave her time to write.
And it paid off. Not only is "Such a Fun Age" a New York Times bestseller, but it's also a pick for Reese Witherspoon's book club.
The novel centers around Emira, a 25-year-old black woman who isn’t sure of her future after graduating from college, but she is broke and losing her health insurance. She takes a job babysitting for Alix, who is a trendsetting white woman. While at a local high-end supermarket with the toddler, Emira is accused of kidnapping, humiliating Emira and sending Alix on a quest to make things right.
Race and class can’t be separated in this story. Alix likes Emira and doesn’t want to lose her, but Emira isn’t one of her interns who can be exploited for the sake of a resume and reference. That Emira isn’t in a lifelong career becomes real to Alix after the incident at the grocery store.
“I think the most racist thing in the book is that Emira doesn’t have health insurance,” Reid said. Since the early 20th century, domestic workers and farmers did not have the same labor rights, and it still affects people like Emira today. Reid knows the feeling, having been without health insurance in the past.
Reid spent time as a babysitter for several families and used that experience when writing. She said that child care can be a great joy, but the margin of error is so small and the pay is so low even though a child-care worker is taking care of something so precious to the parents. (Reid did have one babysitting job that paid $20 an hour, a rate that is far above the norm.)
She hopes the book opens up questions about child care. It’s hard on parents and those who provide the care. In other countries, child care is subsidized. “I wonder what that would look like here,” Reid said.
The book is also a commentary on people who find themselves in a position of power that they weren’t ready for and then take big leaps to deny that power by leveling the playing field. The character Alix tries to do that but makes missteps. Reid notes, “If Alix was a perfect employer, that still wouldn’t change things for a lot of black women earning less than another demographic.”
Meet Kiley Reid
What: Kiley Reid is the author of "Such a Fun Age," published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. She will take part in two panels at the Tucson Festival of Books:
• Feel the Feels, March 14, 4 p.m. In the Integrated Learning Center Room 150. Three debut authors explore how characters deal with emotionally-fraught situations.
• Privilege and Power, March 15, 1 p.m. In Modern Languages Room 350. Three authors discuss their books featuring women who must navigate the intersections of race, class, privilege and power.
Where: The University of Arizona campus
Cost: Free, but Privilege and Power is a ticketed event. Reservations for tickets are available beginning at noon March 9.
Go here for more information.
10 other authors we're excited to meet
Meghan Cox Gurdon is children's book critic for "The Wall Street Journal" and is the author of "The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in an Age of Distraction." See her March 14 at 1 p.m. in the Arizona Daily Star Tent and March 15 at 11:30 a.m. in Education Room 308.
Lisa See is the author of the historical novel "The Island of Sea Women." See her Saturday, March 14 at 11:30 a.m. in Modern Languages Room 350 and 4 p.m. in the Student Union North Ballroom. Both are ticketed events.
Luis Alberto Urrea is a prize-winning author and his newest book is "The House of Broken Angels." See him on Saturday, March 14 at 10 a.m. in the UA Mall Tent, 1 p.m. in the Student Union North Ballroom (this is a ticketed event) and 4 p.m. on the Nuestras Raíces Stage.
Jillian Cantor is a Tucson author. Her newest historical novel is "In Another Time." See her Saturday, March 14 at 11:30 a.m. in the Student Union Tucson Room and Sunday, March 15 at 11:30 a.m. Student Union Kachina.
Marjan Kamali is the author of "The Stationery Shop," a novel set in Tehran. You can see her Saturday, March 14 at 4 p.m. in the UA BookStore Tent or Sunday, March 15 at 10 a.m. in the Integrated Learning Center Room 150 (this is a ticketed event).
Téa Obreht is the author of "Inland," a novel set in Arizona. You can see her Saturday, March 14 at 2:30 p.m. in the Integrated Learning Center Room 150, Sunday, March 15 at 11:30 a.m. at the UA Mall Tent and 2:30 p.m. in the Special Collections at the UA Library.
Lily King is the author of the novel "Euphoria." You can see her Saturday, March 14 at 1 p.m. in the Integrated Learning Center room 150 and Sunday, March 15 at 10 a.m. in the Integrated Learning Center room 150. This is a ticketed event.