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Episode 66 - Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Photo Credit: Kathryn Raines

Talking to Mecca Jamilah Sullivan was like chatting with an old friend. Her debut novel, Big Girl, took me back to the mid '80s and '90s. Big Girl is a classic coming-of-age novel with a twist. The character in question, Malaya (Ma-LIE-ya) Clondon, is growing up in a large body, and the way others react to that body make her journey through adolescence rockier than most.

I caught up with Mecca a few weeks prior to her appearance at the Miami Book Fair. In addition to being a novelist, she's also an academic who teaches at Georgetown University as an associate professor of English. Prior to Big Girl, she published The Poetics of Difference: Queer Feminist Forms in the African Diaspora and the award-winning short story collection Blue Talk and Love.

Through Malaya's story, Mecca provides a scathing critique of diet culture and its impact on girls. When the novel opens, Malaya is eight, and her mom, Nyela, is dragging her to Weight Watchers' meetings. Malaya's mom and her grandmother, Ma-Mère, the two women closest to her, give give the hardest time about her weight.

Despite the serious subject matter, this novel is not without humor. Although she throws serious shade on her daughter and granddaughter, Ma-Mère has a funny saying for every situation.

But there is nothing funny about the impact of the abuse Malaya endures at their hands. That combined with the policing of her food choices pushes her to overeat. Food provides her with comfort, and she later finds solace in hip-hop, particularly the music of Biggie Smalls.

During out interview, Mecca reveals...

- Why she wanted to write about fat phobia in the Black community

- The character who was the most fun to write and the hardest

- Why she feels like Malaya's story is in conversation with the story of Harlem where the book takes place

You can listen to the episode here and help Mecca and the show by purchasing Big Girl on our site.

The first listener to reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter to tell us the name of the classic text that she keeps in her office and hands out to students as needed will win a free copy of Big Girl.

If you've won a ReadMore giveaway in the last 90 days, you're ineligible. If you and I ever saw a concert together at the Dean Dome, you're most likely ineligible. But we'll always have those memories of the long, long, long walk there and back.


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