The author on late-night writing sessions, vulnerability, and rediscovering her love of painting during lockdown

Raven Leilani is the author of Luster, a kinetic, award-winning debut novel whose fans include Barack Obama. Now published in paperback, it tells the story of Edie, a young black woman trying to find her way as a painter in New York City. After getting fired from an entry-level publishing job and ground down by the gig economy, Edie moves in with her middle-aged white lover, his white wife, and their (adopted) black daughter in the suburbs. Cue a plethora of razor-sharp, caustically funny insights into the politics of race, gender and desire. Leilani, 31, spoke from her home in Brooklyn.

What inspired Luster?
I wrote it when I was in NYU’s MFA [creative writing] programme, which I’d come to with an entirely different novel. When my teachers asked me whether I had any real intention behind my project and I couldn’t articulate an answer, I started Luster. I wanted to write something that felt honest and urgent. Because I was trying to scrabble together pages, I wrote in a panic and edited myself emotionally less, so the work came from a more vulnerable place. And some of the most vulnerable subjects for me, I guess, are art and intimacy and failure.

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