Raven Leilani, a Flâneur Who Is Going Places


Raven Leilani has certainly one of this summer time’s most anticipated fiction debuts, however in some methods, she is already anticipating the day the thrill dies down.

That is when she plans to take a while to grieve the lack of her father, Warren, who died from Covid-19 in April. “There’s an aspect of this moment — because of the enormity of it, you see the number of people who have died — it feels abstract,” she mentioned in an interview. “But it’s not abstract at all. Every single number was a person, and one of those was my dad.”

Because of their sophisticated relationship, her dad and mom’ separation when Leilani was in school and the compelled isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, she has needed to course of the loss alone. That type of solitude shouldn’t be what she is used to, having grown up first within the Bronx, then a suburb of Albany, N.Y., in a household of West Indian artists who inspired her creativity.

For years, she juggled jobs and artwork, doing her writing at night time or throughout work shifts. “The going was slow and the going was private,” Leilani mentioned. “There was a frenzy to that grind.”

It’s a frenzy she captures in her novel, “Luster,” out on Tuesday. It follows Edie, a Black lady in her 20s scraping by on a publishing wage whereas attempting to self-actualize as an artist. When Edie meets Eric, an older, married white man whose spouse has agreed to an open marriage, Edie turns into entangled with them and their daughter — an adopted Black 12-year-old named Akila — in surprising methods.

“I wanted to write a story about a Black woman who fails a lot and is sort of grasping for human connection and making mistakes,” Leilani, now 29, mentioned. “I didn’t want her to be a pristine, neatly moral character.”

That Edie is a painter is no coincidence. As a teenager, Leilani expected that she would be a visual artist as well. She attended a high school with a strong art program, where she said she and her classmates engaged in serious critiques of their work. But when it came time to apply for college, she realized that she wasn’t quite good enough to make a career out of painting.

“I still loved it a lot, and I think you can see that in a lot of my writing, but with grappling with those artistic limits, I found that it took the love out of it a little bit,” she said. “With writing, that’s not the case. Even when it’s hard, I still love it.”

After graduating college in 2012, Leilani took the first job she could find, as an imaging specialist at Ancestry.com. She went on to work at a scientific journal, on a top-secret project for the Department of Defense and as a Postmates delivery person. When she moved from Washington to New York to pursue her M.F.A. at New York University in 2017, she joined Macmillan as a production associate.

“I’d write inside the HTML of the e-books, so it looked like I was making corrections,” she said, “but I was writing ‘Luster.’” At other jobs, she wrote on the backs of receipts or in email drafts. Leilani started writing under her first and middle name — her surname is Baptiste — as a way to separate her literary work from her employment.

“She is playing with language in such an invigorating way,” Greenidge said in an interview. “People say that about literary novels all the time: ‘oh, the language, the language, the language.’ But oftentimes that ends up in inscrutable or not very exciting sentences. That is not the case with Raven. Her use of language is truly surprising.”

Leilani, who often clears her head with long walks around New York City, was struck by the flâneur comparison. She credits poetry as formative to her writing. “There’s something beautiful about rhythm, about style, about pattern,” she said. “I think because I started with a love of poetry, the way I sort of transitioned into writing prose and novel-length stuff and short fiction is that I still felt obsessed by the part of writing that is about language.” She often obsesses over sentence-level changes and won’t move on until she gets it just right.

Now she writes full-time, spending most of her days seated on her bed, slowly making a dent in it while she writes until “the sun is gone.”

“Because so much of my life has been work, has been a deferral of my dream to make anything in terms of my art,” Leilani said, “it feels incredible that my days right now can be about that. It feels magical.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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