What was your favorite book as a child?
I read the YA historical fiction writer Ann Rinaldi ravenously. Not only were her books always on my favorite topic — young girls persevering only semi-realistically through various periods of American history — she was also from New Jersey. Big points in my book. My favorite Rinaldi was Time Enough for Drums
, the story of a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with her much older tutor during the Revolutionary War. Appropriate for the time period? Sure. Appropriate for 1999? Not so much. But it aligned perfectly with my other love at that point — historical romance novels. As you’ll discover while reading Admissions
, I was incredibly horny between the years of 2003 and 2006 and I was constantly looking for outlets for that feeling. A lot of the “classics” of the historical romance for teens genre that I read were not
great (Summer of My German Soldier
, anyone?) and in the grand scheme of things, Time Enough for Drums
was pretty tame.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I wrote 90% of Admissions
in my bathroom. No, that is not a joke
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have the number of beloved collections that you would expect a person who obsessively watches Antiques Roadshow
to have. Off the top there’s a large collection of Batgirl and Oracle action figures, statues, and busts; I also have an upsettingly large archive of vintage clothing and accessories (mostly 1940s–1970s); then there’s the Jesse James (yes, the outlaw) memorabilia which includes books, newspaper clippings, and other odds and ends; a huge comic book collection (mostly your standard DC and Marvel books); and the newest thing, vintage table lighters, which my husband accidentally started when he got me one for Christmas, not realizing quite what he was doing.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the digital archive of my high school and college life I keep — the thing that made it possible for me to write Admissions
— which contains every journal entry, email, IM, picture, and school assignment I created, sent, or received for over a decade. It took me some time and a good deal of professional help to realize that the level my digital hoarding (as I affectionately came to call it) had reached was in fact in response to a large trauma, one which I examined publicly for the first time in the memoir. Writing Admissions
, literally purging these feelings out of myself and onto a page, helped the physical (and very healthy) process of purging some of this material as well, and for that I’ll forever be thankful.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I worked at the American Girl Doll store on 5th Ave in New York City during every summer in college. I was a ‘photographer’ first (i.e. I took pictures of kids and their dolls and then photoshopped them onto the covers of American Girl Magazine
) and a historical doll associate, and then alternated between being a barista and a waiter in the cafe. Mind you, I applied for the job absolutely thinking I’d be doing some sort of educational historical reenactment work, not just working a retail POS system. My fondest memory of The American Girl Place was the time I learned that you could tell your mom to go f*ck herself as a 11-year-old and still
go home with a $100 doll. Wild stuff! I wrote a little bit about it during my tenure at Shondaland, and you can read about it here
What scares you the most as a writer?
Well, I’m a Capricorn Sun, Capricorn Rising, so I’ve already done it! I wrote a memoir! I had to share my feelings with the public, a thing I never do despite feeling them very
deeply (Cancer Moon)!
In all seriousness, writing Admissions
was easily the scariest thing I’ve done as a writer to this day. Not only was I writing about very real people who I’ve known for over a decade, I was writing about both people and places who have a good deal more power than I do. I was terrified throughout the process, and spent so much time while I was writing going through the many “what ifs” that could occur after publication. Powerful people and institutions handle getting called out (whether gently or not) in a multitude of ways and it was impossible for me to even begin to predict what folks’ reactions would be to my book and my story. In the end, I’ve been incredibly lucky and the dialogues that have begun since Admissions
’ publication have been more than heartening.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly (reality TV, video games, karaoke, celebrity gossip blogs, YouTube videos, etc.).
I rebuff the term ‘guilty pleasure’ because I take the medium incredibly seriously, but boy oh boy do I love some reality television. The ladies of Bravo are my go-tos (your Real Housewives
— specifically Atlanta, Potomac, Jersey, Beverly Hills — and their associated side acts). While I watch the Bravo shows (your Real Housewives
, and their associated side acts) mostly for entertainment, they’ve also started scratching my white collar true crime itch on a fairly regular basis. You want tax fraud? Wire fraud? Embezzlement? RICO charges? Someone on Bravo’s definitely about to risk it all in exchange for C-list level fame.
is chock full of ‘period’ popculture references, spanning the genres within music, film, and television. Ironically, there’s not so
much in there about what I was reading at the time aside from various references to comic books in passing, and burgeoning hits like the Twilight
series. So, in order to flesh out my 16-year-old self a bit, here are the five books that I read on repeat during my time at Taft (2003–2006). Can you tell that I love Americana and folklore?
- Zorro by Isabelle Allende
- A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
- Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles
- Fables by Bill Willingham
- The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
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began her career as an admissions professional, specializing in diversity recruitment for independent schools. Eventually, she moved on to write Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School
, while working as a founding editor at Shondaland.com, and becoming the first Black woman to become the managing editor of StarTrek.com. She has been heard and seen on NPR and podcasts including “Lovett or Leave It,” “Bitch Sesh,” “Yo! Is This Racist?,” and “Star Trek: The Pod Directive.” Her writing has been published widely from Elle, Marie Claire, Town + Country, Women's Health Magazine, Polygon, The Verge, LennyLetter, Harpers Bazzar
, and The Toast
, among others. Currently, when not writing books, she works as a podcast producer for Crooked Media.
is currently featured in our Self Portraits