While Kiley Reid was working as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, her students would use a certain turn of phrase that she just couldn’t shake. “If I said, ‘OK, say more on that,’ they would get kind of embarrassed and go, ‘Oh, my gosh, I hate telling about this,’” says the bestselling author of Such a Fun Age. Class after class, student after student, they’d all reply with the same word. “That’s where this [second] novel was born, [the] ‘Oh, my gosh, I hate telling about this.’”
Dialogue often serves as Reid’s entry point into a story. But in the case of her latest book, Come and Get It, dialogue — and the specificity of language — also became the story. The novel follows an impressionable resident adviser at the University of Arkansas as well as a visiting professor, who after meeting a group of wildly candid young women living in a a dorm, begins eavesdropping on them as source material for her latest project.
In order to properly capture the pithy, privileged sound bites that the professor would “borrow” from the students — Reid also turned to 20-something women.
“What do you think is classy? What do you splurge on? What does money mean to you at this stage of life?”
“I asked them if they would talk to me about money,” says Reid, whose first book was an instant New York Times bestseller and longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. “I asked some of the questions [from] the first scene, like ‘What do you think is classy? What do you splurge on? What does money mean to you at this stage of life?’”
Within the world of Come and Get It, Reid explores the slippery, wily language we use to talk about money, even when we don’t realize we’re talking about money. She was fascinated by the literal words and phrases, and how when women are coming of age, they’ll often try out new ways of speaking, along with entirely new personalities.
“Millie, the central character here, often takes some of the language from her very cool friend and uses it as her own and tries it out a little,” she explains. “It’s this very vulnerable time of life, where you’re learning how to live on your own, figuring out what you want, and how you can get those things.”
Below, Reid reflects on her favorite podcasts, researching on YouTube, and her new alarm clock obsession.
On getting physical to write:
If my characters are doing a gesture, I’m doing it too. There’s a very strange gesture that Millie makes when she’s having an important conversation [in this book]. She’s putting the back of her hand against her eye like she just woke up from a nap. If you could see me in my office when I was writing it, I was just doing that, making sure that it works, over and over again.
On scouring hashtags for research:
[When I’m in a rut,] I read the beginnings of my favorite novels or I try to go to the experts. I’ll say, “This chapter on Chick-fil-A isn’t working.” So I’ll go watch a documentary about fast food, read articles about Chick-fil-A, re-watch YouTube videos, or look up the hashtag. I say, “OK, let me go to the real world and see what’s actually happening.”
On unwinding with “leftist white guys”:
Walking after a good day of writing is the absolute best. I’ll listen to podcasts, like, I love Lit Society and Michael and Us. The first one is with two really funny Black women in Chicago, and the second is two leftist, white guys in Canada. So [my taste is] all over the place.
On the gadget that makes her mornings:
I used to shoot out of bed in a panic from my iPhone’s alarm. Then I bought an alarm clock called OneClock, which is horrifically expensive but a wonderful addition to my life. It wakes you up with a different calm song every morning — like a clarinet or a choir. It’s amazing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.