An Exclusive Guest Post from Zakiya Dalila Harris, Author of our June Book Club Pick The Other Black Girl

Whenever I sit down to write, there are three things I need: a pen, some paper, and music.

In fact, as I write this, I am listening to Chaka Khan croon that she is “every woman.” In between sentences, I’m pausing to bop along to the music. In between thoughts, I’m singing a line or two.

Other writers tend to think this strange. You listen to music with words when you’re writing? they ask. Isn’t that a distraction? Sometimes, it is. But usually, it’s a directive. Listening to music as I write keeps me in line—especially songs that I love. It points me to the page, keeping me away from social media or perpetual snacking. (Well, most of the time.)

So, music helps me tune out the rest of the world…but it helps me tune into my own work, too. After quitting my publishing job so I could finish writing The Other Black Girl, I suddenly found myself with more free time, but an inconsistent schedule. I had to make the most out of my time by conditioning myself to write pretty much anywhere and anytime I could. When I had to get up early for a shift at my cupcake shop job, I got up even earlier to write, stealing forty-five minutes in the company of jazz greats like Billie Holiday and John Coltrane. When I took on a gig as a writing teacher that required a one-hour commute each way, I made the most of it by working on parts of my novel on the subway, grounding myself in my characters with Erykah Badu’s Baduizm.

Music helps put me in the headspace I need to be in in order to clearly process the world that’s around and inside me, and it was that world—the world of Nella, and the rest of the Black women in this book—that was in my sights as I compiled this playlist for readers. It was a tall order, but one I felt more than ready to fill, since a version of this playlist had already been living in my head for months.

Naturally, the first song that came to mind was Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” which marks a significant literary milestone that Kendra Rae and Diana achieve in the book. It’s also significant because it’s one of the only songs on my playlist that applies to every Black woman in The Other Black Girl. For centuries, Black women have done it all—looked after other people’s children, cleaned other people’s houses, spoken out against injustice—all while being consistently delegated to the bottom of society’s totem pole, and all the while being told that our pain doesn’t matter. Yet we are still here, and we are still thriving.

I chose many of these songs, however, with one or two specific characters in mind. With Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair,” I was channeling Nella’s experiences at Wagner Books as the only Black employee, and Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s sassy “Savage (Remix)” felt appropriate for Hazel. John Coltrane’s “Blue in Green” seemed like a song Diana would play in her office after hours, and the self-assuredness of Erykah Badu’s “Appletree” echoed Kendra Rae’s character.

I could have easily made a playlist that lasted for days. Or a playlist more heavily focused on songs with a socially conscious message … or one with more bops. But the twelve I settled on—twelve songs that span not just an array of decades, but genres and moods—fit the headspace of my multigenerational, multi-genre novel just right. I hope you’ll take a listen, and I hope you agree.

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