Luster: A Novel

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Raven Leilani on Writing Complex and Contradictory Black Women Protagonists

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At The Guardian, Hephzibah Anderson interviews Raven Leilani, author of the award-winning novel Luster. Now published in paperback, Leilani’s sexy and blisteringly honest debut follows Edie, a 23-year-old black woman and aspiring painter trying to stay afloat in New York City. But after being fired from her publishing job, she finds herself moving in with her married white lover and his family.

Leilani discusses her own connection to painting, books currently on her bedside table, literary characters that played a part in the creation of Edie, and her choice to write a scene in which Edie fantasizes about being hit and permits her older white boyfriend to actually strike her—a moment that incited a lot of reactions from readers. “It’s a deeply tricky thing to write about a black woman who is inviting this kind of violence,” Leilani says. “I wanted her to be a character who has the freedom to find pleasure where she finds it, but it is, too, still quite intertwined with the fact that because she is a black woman, she experiences these loud and soft violences in her public life, and choosing it in her private life is a way to exert that control that she doesn’t have elsewhere.”

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