Novelist Kiley Reid ’10 Draws on MMC Connections and Experiences for New Book

In work and in life, best-selling author and MMC alum Kiley Reid ’10 is a long way from East 71st Street: An assistant professor at the University of Michigan, where she teaches writing, she now calls Ann Arbor home, and her latest book Come and Get It (Putnam, 2024) is set far afield from New York City, at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. Reid spent a year living, working, and people-watching in the area, before entering an MFA program at the University of Iowa.

Still, in some respects, Come and Get It has brought her back to her MMC roots. The novel, a follow-up to her Booker Prize-nominated debut Such a Fun Age, charts the intersecting paths of a raft of characters, including a residence advisor desperate for financial stability, the rowdy young women in her dorm, and a visiting college professor, as they grapple with issues around money, consumption, betrayal, and privilege. Although the work isn’t autobiographical, Reid drew on her experiences as an RA at MMC and even interviewed Senior Residence Director Catie Solan to paint a more realistic picture of an RA’s world. We spoke with Reid just as her national book tour ended.

What made you choose a campus setting for your latest novel? What about the dynamics there appeals to you?
I was teaching at the University of Iowa when I started writing Come and Get It, and I was fascinated by how students navigated money—how they spoke about it, how they got it, and how they asked for it. Then I read the book Paying for the Party, written by two sociologists who did a five-year study at a midwestern university. They interviewed young women from the same dorm in their freshmen year and followed them until after college, tracking their financial situations from beginning to end. I was hooked on this world of varying ranges of equality among students who lived together and thought a college campus would be a great hothouse to explore how money works with people using the same shared resources.

What do you hope people will take away from the book?
The first thing for me is always entertainment. I believe the job of a novel is to entertain. Of course, entertainment can come in many different forms. Some people love beautiful prose; some love a plotty, fast-paced, twisty, thriller-type read. When I pick up a book, I want to see normalness. I like to see authors who can reflect human behavior or feelings in ways I haven’t thought about.

I also love it when a novel makes me zoom out, take a bird’s-eye view, and see the world a bit differently. In Come and Get It, my protagonist, Millie, is trying to buy a house, and I researched housing and dorms for so long that I began to think, why do we feel like we have to buy houses? Why does Millie have to work so hard to live in this dorm and other people don’t? I like it when a story makes me question the limitations that our world gives us in that way.

You graduated from MMC with a BFA in Acting. Does your background in theatre affect the way you approach writing?
One hundred percent. I’ve always been obsessed with storytelling, and that’s a big part of why theatre drew me. I thought that was the mode of storytelling that I wanted to spend my life doing, but ultimately, I wanted to be behind the words more than I wanted to be a vessel for them. Through my theatre classes, I got to read so many great plays from Chekhov and Noël Coward and so much Shakespeare with [MMC Theatre Arts Professor] John Basil. I definitely think it had a huge effect on my penchant for dialogue and finding the rhythms of normal human behavior.

When did you transition from the acting world to writing novels?
After college, I worked as a nanny and also at The Craft Studio, which is owned by an MMC alum—Lindsey Peers [Class of 2005], who is wonderful and definitely funded my rent for a long time! I was still acting, doing some small commercials and theatre, and hoping for a big break at some point. And then, maybe a year and a half after I graduated, I booked a commercial for Google Wallet. I got $500 for it and thought it was the best thing in the entire world. But I remember shooting it on my birthday and wishing I had been writing instead. It just didn’t fit my creative energy. A little bit after that I took my first writing course at the Gotham Writers Workshop.

With this book, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the college experience. What aspects of your own experience at MMC impacted you the most and why?
I transferred to Marymount Manhattan from the University of Arizona. I’d been in this huge school in a smaller city and wanted the exact opposite experience: an intimate learning environment within a huge city with lots of opportunities. And that’s what Marymount gave to me. The personal attention from professors you see every morning, whether you want to or not [laughs], had a huge effect on my ability to process my role in storytelling and how I was improving. That individual care was an incredible benefit for me.

Marymount was also a nice soft launchpad for living in New York City. I felt like I had a built-in community that helped me navigate the city in safe ways. I didn’t feel like I was just plopped in a huge city with millions of people—I had a little liberal arts world that I could dedicate myself to and learn how to be my own person in the city.

Besides your Shakespeare class with Professor Basil, what classes did you enjoy the most?
I took a Religion and Literature class with Professor Bradley Herling, which was great. I ended up taking a lot of classes with him and became a Religious Studies minor. I took a Theatre History class with Jill Stevenson and know I read differently because of her. I took a voice and movement class with Barbara Adrian and will forever be more aware of what I can do with my body and voice because of it. And I took an Acting class with David Mold my senior year and learned to take my time in understanding language. I’m old now [laughs], but I look back on it all so fondly.

What experiences did you bring from your time as an RA to the book?
This novel is complete fiction, but I absolutely drew from my experience as an RA at Marymount—the feeling of having the duty phone on you at all times and sleeping in your RA polo just in case something happens. Those were definitely things that I experienced. The dorm within Come and Get It is an upperclassman and transfer dorm, and at MMC I also lived in an upperclassman and transfer dorm. And Millie, my protagonist, has a very quintessential big-sister energy that many RAs have, myself included. I hope that anyone in Residence Life can see those threads and feel that they’re back in the dorm for better or worse.

How did your conversation with Catie Solan help?
Catie was incredibly helpful; we talked through the logistics of the job, what a day-to-day looks like, and what the red tape within Residence Life could be. And then, of course, we got into things like roommates throwing Febreze bottles at each other or what happens in the biggest emergencies, and what you do at disciplinary hearings. All of those things were so incredibly helpful for me to create a world that’s authentic to Res Life. Doing research and going to the experts always makes my fiction ring a bit truer when I sit down to write it.

We’re holding this conversation during Women’s History Month. How do you see yourself and your work representing women’s issues or concerns?
On a surface level? There are quite a few women in this novel [laughs]. I’ve had many people say, ‘You do not like to write about men.’ The people who are closest to me are typically women and non-binary people, and I believe that in a wonderful and beautiful way, platonic relationships between women can be just as impactful and heartbreaking as romantic relationships. There are a lot of friendships in this novel between women that are very fraught and loving and tender and delicate. I hope that women can recognize themselves and their relationships in this book, as that’s something that I’m always looking to do as well. Also, I’m a novelist because I’ve had women who supported me from days of short stories that got tons of rejections to days like today where writing is my career.

Speaking of your career, are there any career lessons you would share with MMC students?
Put your money in a high-yield savings account [laughs].

Your life seems to be a lesson in taking all that you’ve learned and figuring out how to make it work best for you.
College is a space for you to learn what you like. I don’t think it’s a place to necessarily decide what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. So, I’d tell students to be open to different classes because different professors will help shape their worldview. I did not enter Marymount thinking that I would be a Religious Studies minor. I took one class and enjoyed it, and the professor told me, ‘You should think about doing this as a minor.’ But that changed my entire trajectory of what I read, what I think, and how I want to raise my daughter. So, those tiny decisions and responses to your curiosity can take you to completely different places that are really exciting. Other advice? Let me think. [Laughs] I guess I would say try and be a good roommate.

Published: March 26, 2024