Daphne Palasi Andreades’ stunning debut novel Brown Girls (Fourth Estate, 3 February 2022) is a vibrant and poetic look at the lives of women of colour growing up in modern America. Told in vignettes, we meet a collective group of girls from different immigrant backgrounds finding their way in today’s society. On a single block in a bleak neighbourhood of Queens, New York, the girls explore the world, their identities, their culture, young motherhood and their ‘homelands’. Told in an original and vivid voice, Andreades brings the girls to life with all the highs and lows that they are dealt. I recommend reading in one sitting!

Tell us about the bookshelves in your home.

At the moment, I have three tall bookshelves in my home because utilising vertical space in a small New York City apartment is crucial. Growing up, I didn’t have a bookcase in my room. I kept my books in plastic crates and stacked them on my headboard. When I started living on my own, my first purchase was a sand-coloured Billy bookcase from IKEA. Later, I found the same one on Craigslist – they’re not at all fancy but they’re functional and affordable. I purchased extenders, so the bookshelves would be extra-tall, and so that (I joked with my partner) I’d feel like Belle from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. I’m happy to report that I feel like Belle on many days.

My bookshelves are organised by genre: short story collections, poetry collections, favourite contemporary novels, classic novels, books on craft, essay collections, books from college and my MFA, plays, and a shelf of ‘To Be Read’ books, strategically placed at eye-level so I can’t conveniently forget about them and buy other books (it doesn’t always work). I gravitate toward fiction, but have a section of non-fiction – memoirs, biographies, books on anthropology, history and religion – that is slowly growing. I also love books that are hybrid texts and blur genres; I hope to grow this section of my bookshelves as well. Lastly, there are small stacks of books on my desk and around my bed. I have yet to buy a nightstand.

Which books are your most recent bookshelf additions?

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin, Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung, Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang, Native American Testimony by Peter Nabokov, and advanced reader’s copies of How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu and Manywhere by Morgan Thomas.

Do you judge people by their bookshelves?

Absolutely. Then again, I haven’t been inside people’s homes for two years because of Covid. Still, it’s been fun to chat with friends and colleagues virtually and glimpse their bookcases behind them. I try not to judge, but it’s impossible.

I’ve gotten a kick out of the Twitter account Room Rater, which started during lockdown in 2020 and unashamedly, and hilariously, rates people’s bookshelves on Skype and Zoom calls.

Which is your most treasured book?

I’m afraid it’s impossible for me to pick just one. Different books have meant different things to me over time.

Stacks form, in turn, when various moods strike me. I don’t usually read one book at a time. The stacks remain until the mess annoys me, and I go on a cleaning spree.”

What do your bookshelves say about you?

They reveal someone who attempts to be organised and, who, for the most part, succeeds… but not completely. Usually, as the weeks go by, horizontal stacks of books start to accumulate on my shelves. For example, whenever I feel stuck or uninspired – or conversely, very inspired – I pull out various books to reference. Other times, I want to remind myself of a specific passage or quote for a piece I’m working on, or an idea I’m thinking through. Stacks form, in turn, when various moods strike me. I don’t usually read one book at a time. The stacks remain until the mess annoys me, and I go on a cleaning spree.

My shelves also hint at someone who adores indoor plants.

Daphne Palasi Andreades

What’s the oldest book on your shelf?

The oldest books on my shelves are ones from a children’s series titled Horrible Harry by Suzy Kline. My second-grade teacher, whom I loved, read one of these short chapter books aloud to our class. I must have been eight years old. I remember the books being hilarious, but I haven’t reread them. To my surprise, however, when I thumbed through one of them again for this interview, I rediscovered that one of the main characters is an Asian American girl. I’d forgotten this detail, and it reminded me of how I rarely encountered Asian American characters in fiction as a kid; I wonder if seeing this character at that age affected me positively on an unconscious level. I don’t remember buying the Horrible Harry books, but I must have begged my parents for them.

Do you rearrange your bookshelves often – and where do your replaced books go?

I don’t typically rearrange my bookshelves unless a major shift necessitates it. A few months ag I moved into a new apartment, after living in my previous one for nearly six years – it was where I wrote my debut novel, actually. The move forced me to sort through all the books I’d accumulated over the years and assess which ones I wanted to take with me, and which I was fine with donating to my local thrift shop. I let go of three shelves-worth of books. I kept the ones I thought I’d return to again one day.

I will admit that I did experiment with categorising my books according to colour. I was on a panel this summer and wanted to spruce up my background. In the US, my novel has a pink cover, so I arranged the two shelves behind me to feature other pink books. It was aesthetic and fun – actually, a lot of my favourite contemporary books have pink covers – but ultimately it was disorienting. I couldn’t find anything after! I’ve since moved everything back to its usual spot, based on genre.

Do you have any books from your childhood on your shelf?

I do (see above), but just a small section. I kept a few chapter books from elementary and middle school that I loved, at least at the time: novels by Neil Gaiman, Sharon Creech, Gail Carson Levine, Cornelia Funke and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Book lender, book giver or book borrower?

All of the above. My family is the main requester of my books, which I am more than happy to lend to them. I also love to guess which stories might resonate with loved ones and give them as gifts on birthdays or holidays. In terms of book borrowing, I grew up going to the New York Public Library as a child and student, when I couldn’t afford to buy books. Libraries have a very special place in my heart because of how they’ve opened up entire worlds for me, at no cost.

Whose bookshelves are you most curious about?

I have never thought about this. I love the poets Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson, so I’d want to see who are on their shelves in order to get the best poetry (and other) recommendations. Also, I’m curious about Katie Kitamura, Roxane Gay, Mieko Kawakami, Elena Ferrante and Joan Didion’s bookshelves!

Introduced and compiled by Sonia Weir

 

Daphne Palasi Andreades is a graduate of CUNY Baruch College and Columbia University’s MFA Fiction program, where she was awarded a Henfield Prize and a Creative Writing Teaching Fellowship. She is the recipient of a 2021 O. Henry Prize, and scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, where she won the Voices of Color Prize, among other honours. Her fiction often explores diaspora, immigration and the far-reaching effects of colonialism and imperialism. She lives in New York City. Brown Girls is published by Fourth Estate in hardback, eBook and audio download.
Read more
daphnepalasiandreades.com
Twitter: @daphnepalasia
Instagram: daphnepalasia
@4thEstateBooks

Author portrait © Jingyu Lin

Sonia Weir is a contributing editor to Bookanista. She started the Ultimate Reads and Recommendations Facebook group in December 2018, which now has over 700 members from all over the world. The group is inclusive and aimed at every reader, no matter the books, authors or genre.
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