For the past two years, Nella Rogers, the only child of two college professors, has held a job as an editorial assistant at Wagner’s, a publishing house filled with Ivy League trust funders who work for low wages with the dream of becoming an editor one day. That’s Nella’s dream too, though she knows she has a long way to go. The only Black in the editorial assistant pool since the editor disappeared some 20 years ago muttering loudly and scratching he hear. By the way, this is a major clue in The Other Black Girl (Atria 2021) a book that is way beyond your typical business competition story. The first novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris, it’s a zinger showing not only the tricky waters Blacks must navigate—I mean how many White people, myself included, have had to worry that there were too many Whites in the business?
The impetus for the book says Harris is something similar. Harris was in the bathroom washing her hands when a Black woman walked out of one of the stalls. Her first thought was who was she? “I was not used to seeing other Black people on the floor,” he says. “I knew who was in the company and how many Black and Brown people there were on my floor—which was me and a Black editor at Pantheon/Knopf. So, I looked at this woman and hoped we would have a moment, but there was nothing. Which was cool, I get it. But on my way back to my desk it got me thinking, why was I so excited? Why was I so starved? But of course, I was starved.
Becoming a Wagner editor requires a host of abilities—the ability to work hard, a knack of understanding he Zeitgeist so well that’s it easy to define the winners from the losers when it comes to selecting what novels have that certain something that make them most likely to become best sellers.
Oh, and keeping your mouth shut and fitting in.
Nella has got all the above checked except for the last two. Sure, she works hard at developing contacts, and she’s super bright but she blows it big time when she suggests that one of the publisher’s star writers, who is introducing a Black character in his newest book, that the woman is a racist stereotype. Of course she , Shartricia Daniels is the fictional character–a pregnant black opioid addict. But when she tries to point this out, her editor is outraged as is the writer, and unfortunately, The Other Black Girl, Hazel-May McCall, a pretty woman with just the right sense of style, a killer resume, and the sweet guile pretends to agree with Nella. But then later Nella overhears her talking to their shared boss praising the Shartricia character and the book. Or even worse, trying to get her to quit. After all, is there room for two Black Girls at Wagner’s? In any office>
Someone doesn’t think so as Nella soon finds warning notes, seemingly written to scare her aware from Nelson’s. But there’s something even more sinister going on at Nelson’s and Nella is facing a crisis that is impacting all of the Other Black Girls in offices throughout the city.