The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
It’s no secret that publishing has a diversity problem. The conversation around how this majority-White industry can meaningfully diversify its workforce is long overdue. The issue is finally getting some airtime thanks to the incredible work of people like editor Radhiah Chowdhury, who released a report titled ‘It’s hard to be what you can’t see: Diversity within Australian publishing’ late last year, reflecting on the experiences and perspectives of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic editors and authors in both the UK and Australia. It’s a must-read if you care about books and those who make them.
Of course, the US publishing industry is no different. When Zakiya Dalila Harris was working as an editorial assistant at Knopf Doubleday and bumped into a Black woman in the bathroom, she was surprised – at the time Harris was one of only two Black people working on the floor. This encounter sparked the idea that became her highly anticipated debut novel, The Other Black Girl. Harris’s debut is whip-smart satire with thrilling, page-turning twists. What starts as a compelling romp about the work and home life of Nella (26-year-old editorial assistant at Wagner Books and Wagner’s only Black employee), soon turns sinister thanks to both the arrival of Nella’s colleague, Hazel, and a series of anonymous notes left on Nella’s desk demanding she ‘Leave Wagner. NOW’.
Things get messed up pretty fast. This sharp, shrewd cultural commentary masterfully threads witty accounts of race (and racism) in the workplace with a number of Black horror tropes; Cosmopolitan called The Other Black Girl ‘the Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada crossover you’ve been waiting for’, which made me laugh (and also rings true).
Harris has written an entertaining thriller that will challenge your assumptions, resonate with anyone who has ever felt manipulated in the workplace, and provoke substantial reflection on the Whiteness of the publishing industry (both in the US and here in Australia). Rashida Jones is already writing a TV adaptation with Harris so make sure to read the book first!