Interview: Jasmine Guillory, Author Of 'Party of Two'Jasmine Guillory's latest starts with a meet-cute; L.A. lawyer Olivia Monroe runs into U.S. Senator Max Powell in a hotel bar. But they're divided by more than distance: Olivia is black, Max is white.
Olivia Monroe has just moved to Los Angeles to open her own law firm.
Max Powell is a U.S. Senator who usually spends his weeks in D.C.
After a meet-cute at a hotel bar, they begin a casual, weekends-only long-distance fling. Or is it more? That's the setup for novelist Jasmine Guillory's new romance Party of Two. And it has some timely themes — Olivia is black, Max is white.
"Race plays out in their relationship in the different ways they view the world and the different ways the world has impacted them," Guillory says. "Max has a very kind of happy-go-lucky attitude towards life, which is easy for him because he grew up wealthy. He's a white man. He's sort of had — everything he's touched turned to gold in many ways. And while he recognizes very well all of the struggles that other people go through, those have never been his struggles. Whereas Olivia has fought for everything that she's ever gotten. And so they just have very different attitudes towards how to get through the world."
On Max's blind spots — particularly around Olivia's teenage arrest.
In an academic way, he gets that. He used to be a prosecutor and he kind of had a big change of perspective. When he was a prosecutor and recognized what happened to kids who were arrested, he tried to reform within the office. He is now a senator and is trying to reform that way. But it's nothing that he's ever had to go through. And so he doesn't understand viscerally what she went through.
On why it's important for her to portray interracial couples
It's very difficult for me, and I know for other people, to write a book about people falling in love, and getting to know one another, without talking about something that is core to their identity. I have never had a relationship, whether it's a romantic relationship or a good friendship, where we didn't talk about race. My close friends and I talk about race all the time, you know, especially right now in all of the conversations we're having about race. I mean, I've had a number of conversations about race with my white friends in the past few weeks that have not felt stressful or fraught, because I've talked to them about that before.
You know, I don't think that you can have a real relationship with a person without having those conversations and knowing where you stand. And I feel like my characters feel a lot the same way. And so I wanted them to have those conversations — not in a big deal way every time, but just so that they keep referring to it, and know that they're on the same page for everything.
On a less serious note — the importance of dessert
I think a lot of times when I'm reading books, I kind of wonder, like, did they stop for lunch? But, you know, partly that's just logistically, you know, when I'm watching movies and they have this long action sequence, I think they they must be real tired and hungry after that. Maybe they need a snack. And so there's definitely a lot of snacking in this book.
On reckoning with racism both in romance and publishing just as the country is doing the same
These are issues that I have been dealing with and reckoning with in every industry I've worked in. You know, when I was a lawyer, I distinctly remember there was a survey that said 100% of black women lawyers leave their first law firm. And then I thought about all of the black women lawyers I knew, who I had known at the firm, who were all gone. And I was like, yeah, OK, that makes sense. The legal industry is very racist. The publishing industry is very racist, like, name an industry and you'll say that. And that's what systemic racism means.
And so all — what I try to do is lift up other black writers, give them advice, because I think a lot of publishing is kind of a whisper network. If you don't get those whispers, then you don't know who to avoid, or what's happening, or what you should ask for. And so that's what I try to do. Sometimes it feels like that isn't enough. But the whole industry is above me. And so I'm just trying to, you know, fight as hard as I can.
On whether this moment feels different
You know, it does really feel different. It has heartened me to see places like publishing houses, making commitments to saying that they are going to, you know, do an audit of their staff and the books that they put out. So that's a first start. And then what are they gonna do? What's the recruitment gonna be? What's the retention going to be? That thing I said, about 100% of black women lawyers leave their first law firm — it wasn't that they couldn't get jobs ... they left because the atmosphere there was too hard and difficult, and they didn't get mentors and they didn't get sponsors. And that's what people need who work in publishing, is they need people to have their backs, they need to not be the only black person in the room when they're trying to fight for a book by another black person. You know, I'll be checking back in in a few months, and then a few years and see if there's been progress.
This story was edited for radio by Samantha Balaban and Barrie Hardymon, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.