AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This week, "Saturday Night Live" hired Sasheer Zamata, its first African-American female cast member in six years. Zamata's hiring follows recent criticism of the comedy show's lack of diversity. Author Danielle Evans(ph) says she has an idea what it's like to be in Zamata's shoes as the only black woman on the show. Evans has never done sketch comedy, but she has read a book of short stories that draws on the theme. It's called "Get Down" by Asali Solomon.
DANIELLE EVANS: Asali Solomon is a writer who understands what race has to do with performance. "Twelve Takes Thea," the opening story of her collection, is about two black girls at a wealthy prep school. Thea is awkward. At home her brother calls her Jane and teases her for acting too white, but at school her classmates treat her like an emissary from the land of urban danger.
She's also often confused for her friend Nadja(ph). It's almost as if their friendship means that they can't be themselves, their personalities collapse into their own role as the class' only black girls. When Nadja leaves the school, and a new black classmate arrives, Thea feels pressured to be friends with her. She finds herself twisting into cruelty to differentiate herself.
In another story called "The Star of the Story," Solomon writes it was during that time in Eduardo's(ph) arms that Akusa(ph) came in to one of her favorite selves. She shoplifted bright, beaded, slinky things from Macy's and wore strappy sandals in the dead of February.
Akusa isn't the only one in this collection who thinks a new self can be as simple as a costume change. All of Solomon's characters are aware of how close behind them their histories are, how they'll never quite break free from the prisms through which they're viewed. It's something they grapple with, and it's something that Sasheer Zamata will also definitely grapple with.
CORNISH: The book is "Get Down" by Asali Solomon. It was recommended by author Danielle Evans. Her latest collection of short stories is called "Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self."
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