Raven Leilani on Unapologetically Writing Towards Want and Rage

February 12, 2021 | 2

At the Believer, Raven Leilani, author of Luster, discusses her desire to write Black women who actively resist conforming to society’s preconceptions about them. “I wanted to afford a Black woman the latitude to be fallible,” she says. “I wanted to write against the idea that there is a particular way to comport yourself to earn the right to empathy. Black women are especially subject to this expectation, and I think to have to expertly navigate racist and sexist terrain to survive and be denied the right to a human response is to deny that person dignity. It’s a recipe for a repressed, combustible person. I’ve been there, and I’m still unlearning that reflexive curation as we speak, so it was a relief to write a Black woman who leads with her id. It was a relief to write toward her want and rage without apology, which is, unfortunately, what some people might find unlikeable.”

is a writer and illustrator. She is the author of two illustrated books, Last Night's Reading (Penguin Books, 2015) and Sanpaku (Archaia 2018).


  1. “Want” and “rage” and “without apology.” Sounds like my five year-old. Or Donald Trump. Lead with that id, folk; seriously? Women imitating the worst behaviors of immature and toxic men is not a step towards progress.

  2. “Imitating the worst behaviors” is what’s turned me off a lot of contemporary female writers, whose subjects and style exemplify, imo, the worst of male entitlement. But this book really hit home for me, because the narrator’s id is presented with compassion and humility. It’s an amazing balancing act to write in the voice of a woman–a person–who is so very present, and vulnerable, in her life (and in THE present). She watches herself from outside herself, as we do, trying to make sense of why she is motivated to act as she does. Sometimes she succeeds in understanding herself; sometimes not. She is not uncaring or selfish, like so many modern characters. She just IS, unapologetically. I thought this book was a revelation.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.