As a faculty member at the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction’s summer 2015 retreat in Taos, writer Angela Flournoy delivered a craft talk entitled “Talk Isn’t Cheap” that was part literary, part musicology, and 100% unexpected. She shared that Stevie Wonder’s 1973 hit single “Living for the City” is believed to have inspired hip-hop artists to include skits on their albums. The popularity of these skits peaked in the 1990s, with a limited resurgence on Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city, and on Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015. Flournoy noted that over the years, rappers have used dialogue for a variety of purposes: to set scenes; to provide context, subtext, and humor; to present multiple points of view; and to function as narrative. These are all, of course, elements of craft familiar to writers. Flournoy drew parallels between writers’ use of dialogue and hip-hop artists’ use of it, comparing a range of songs and texts, from Jay Z’s “99 Problems” and Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster,” to Linda Rosencrantz’s classic hippie novel, Talk, and the hard-boiled black detective novels of Chester Himes, who wrote during the 1940s through the 1970s.
A new Kimbilio Fellow and pop culture junkie, I left Flournoy’s talk inspired to play with newfound possibilities for dialogue in my novel-in-progress. I was also curious about Flournoy, a then-thirty-year-old novelist whose debut, The Turner House, spans fifty years in the lives of a Detroit family of thirteen children as the city’s East Side declines and the family matriarch falls ill. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and named a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, among other accolades. I wanted to know more about Flournoy’s award-winning year, and, of course, her Top Five.
Read the rest of the interview here: Deesha Interviews Angela