Featured Fem | Meet Nailah King

Photo on 2012-10-18 at 00.17Fem: What is your favorite genre of literature and why?

Nailah King: It’s funny how your reading preferences change. I used to have vehement opinions about genre that I just don’t have now. My favourite genre of literature generally is fiction. Going a bit deeper, I definitely have a favourite within fiction and that’s magical realism and fantasy. I wouldn’t say I’ve read everything in the “cannon” but I’ve read enough titles to know it’s my favourite. I’m definitely a big fan of Marquez’s work and reading One Hundred Years of Solitude was a big moment for me. I was on a pretty long hiatus from writing and it snapped me back into writing mode. There are endless possibilities, and worlds in this genre and I think it best illustrates how stories truly can be magic.

I’m also a pretty big fan of YA. I feel like you can’t really talk about YA without mentioning John Green, but being Canadian, Patricia Bow’s Spiral Maze is what kind of started it all for me, both the love of fantasy and YA books.

F: Why do you think diversity is important in literature?

NK: This question can be a bit contentious for me in that, I understand why I’m being asked, namely to illustrate the value of diverse literature for people within the margins, but I don’t love being asked it. There are lots of reasons why diverse literature is important but I’ll pick out the two most important ones in my view.

One reason is that it’s important for diverse people to see themselves reflected in the stories they read. We often identify with characters (sometimes we don’t) and to never be able to read about people who look like you, or have had experiences like yours, or are from communities you are part of is a disheartening feeling. It’s sort of like your stories don’t have value, and in turn, you don’t have value.

The second reason being diverse folks have interesting stories to tell and we all benefit from hearing those stories, period. I don’t think the question should be why is diversity important in literature but rather, why don’t people feel compelled to read diversely?

F: Tell us about editing Room’s recent WOC issue.

NK: This is still in progress but the response was overwhelming. I have to say women of colour really stepped up to the plate. I’m reading truly inspiring stories. I’ve cried, laughed, pondered, questioned, and reflected during this process. The sheer amount of talent has been beautiful to see.

I hate that this issue seems unique but I’m hoping it sets a precedent. I also want to shout out people already doing this work. Any magazine that makes an effort to seek diversity (in its many iterations) is helping to make literature better.

F: How do you balance being both an author and an entrepreneur? What has your experience been like combining the two?

NK: I feel like in this day and age, you have to be both. Not everyone can write Harry Potter or wants to. Gone are the days where you could submit a manuscript and get a good book deal and have writing be your sole stream of income. The reality is most writers volunteer for a magazine (uh, hello!), work a day job, work some sort of side hustle and then fit in writing. Not like there’s anything wrong with that, but you have to be a bit more calculating and in control than in the past.

You need to create a strong brand for yourself, be a bit of a loud mouth on social media and find your voice, and find the right places to shop your work. This mentality is probably counter to what we’ve been taught in school, especially in university, but the romanticism of a certain type of writing career has got to stop.

F: There’s been a lot of controversy lately with white women appropriating black culture (Iggy Azalea, Miley Cyrus, etc). In your opinion, how can we better raise awareness of cultural sensitivity and get people, but especially white people, to realize that cultural appropriation is wrong?

NK: My feeling is that people are acutely aware of why appropriation is problematic. I think the question rests with the appropriators, not black women. It’s not our job to educate anyone.

They know what they’re doing is wrong, continue to do it, and become very irate when they are called out on it. The question is not how to raise awareness but why do these people feel entitled to appropriate?

F: What was your most challenging piece to write? How did it alter your perspective as a writer? 

NK: It may be a cop out but every piece is challenging. I’m the type of writer who has to fall head over heels for the narrative and characters before I can dive into writing. I literally need the wherewithal to tell a story that can feel overwhelming. I’m always concerned about getting their story wrong, or misrepresenting them.

A writer’s perspective, I believe, is altered with every story. I’m never the same person after a story is done. Each manuscript is transformative in a way. I guess that sounds pretentious, but I get so emotionally involved and invested with every story it’s hard for me say there has only been one story that’s affected me.

F: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from writing?

NK: That’s a tough, but good question actually. So far? What kind of writer I am. I approach writing in a non-traditional way. I’m not the writer who writes daily, or has a schedule, uses writing prompts, or has any semblance of discipline. I think for the longest time I tried to be that type of writer but I’m a lot more cosmic with it.

When the ideas flow or the story emerges in my head, I run with it. Maybe I’ll be bold enough to say that’s everyone’s biggest lesson. Only you determine what kind of writer you want to be or will be.

Nailah King is a lover of pop culture, gifs, and literature. She is an alumnae of UBC in English Literature and moved to Toronto to chase those publishing dreams. She is co-editing Room Magazine’s forthcoming issue, 39.1 Women of Colour. She is currently working on a web-series, a novel, and retaining her sanity.


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