Looking for your next contemporary read? Playwright Kara Lee Corthron’s The Truth of Right Now should be on your radar. The novel embraces popular tropes such as the “mysterious new student” while also dealing with topics such as interracial relationships, a topic that, in 2017, shouldn’t be such a big deal anymore.
Set against a backdrop of New York City and a privileged Manhattan high school, two teenagers who come from seemingly different worlds find solace in each other. After a rough sophomore year, Lily returns to school ready to move on from her past. But unable to escape her own thoughts and with friends who are either overbearing or absent, she’s not having the best year. Then there’s Dari, short for Dariomauritius, a transfer student who seems to embody everything Lily’s searching for – creative, honest, and sensitive. But even in modern-day New York interracial relationships are still a hard topic for some and that, compounded with the personal issues both Dari and Lily face, does not make for an easy friendship or relationship.
The Truth of Right Now is available now.
Congratulations on your debut novel, The Truth of Right Now. What has been the most exciting part of the writing and publication process for you?
The day my agent called to tell me that someone bought the book was about as exciting as it gets! And the launch party. It was an awesome night with some of my favorite people!
You’ve written numerous plays and now have penned a YA novel. How was the process of writing a novel versus a play different? In what ways was it the same?
The freedom to write without worrying about cast size, production budget, etc. was a totally new experience for me. There are often constraints we feel as playwrights when writing a new play because we want it to be produced and if we’re fortunate enough to get a production, a group of collaborators will join the team to make the play a fully realized production. Writing the novel, I felt like I could create a whole world that would never be compromised. Also, the scope of a novel is much more sweeping than a play and I found it harder to hold onto mentally when doing rewrites. Sometimes I can close my eyes and see a whole play. A novel is too big for me to do that. But I think the way I structure a novel is very close to how I write plays: there must be a beginning, middle, and an end, a major conflict, and characters with high-stakes objectives. Those things are pretty universal, at least for me.
What were some of your inspirations for The Truth of Right Now?
The original idea for The Truth of Right Now came to me a little over four years ago. I was reading Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art by Phoebe Hoban, a biography about Jean-Michel Basquiat. At one point in his young journey, Basquiat crashes with a white girlfriend and her single mom. This is only mentioned briefly, but I was struck by the closeness of said mom and her daughter, like maybe they spent too much time together. The character of Dari is definitely inspired by Jean-Michel in a few subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but he is very much his own person; I didn’t use any specific events from Basquiat’s life in the book. Aside from exploring the inner and outer life of a young black man who dreams of being a famous artist, I was interested in playing with a mother-daughter relationship with real boundary issues. So from that one section of that biography I read years ago, I found the seeds for three of the main characters in The Truth of Right Now.
I was also inspired by the lack of interracial stories in the YA books I’d read up to that point and I wanted to help turn that situation around.
What were some of your favorite scenes to write?
This is hard, but if I have to choose, I’d say I LOVED writing the whole “Yes Night” section most. That was one of the times when I felt like I was in the story with my characters; my writer self disappeared and it was like I was an extra in their scenes. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but it’s exciting when it happens.
As the product of an interracial couple, I’m always on the look out for stories featuring interracial friendship and romance so I was very excited when I heard about your book. What do you think is the importance of interracial friendship and relationships within YA novels?
Intersectionality is the present and the future. The divisions we carry over from past generations are killing us. With the rise of hate crimes in the U.S. and the ever-more frightening opinions about immigrants, it is critical that we learn and practice compassion. I emphasize the practicing because we can all be completely altruistic in theory, but we’re imperfect humans and we only learn through trial and error, which means moving beyond ideas. We need to experience people with different ethnicities, different belief systems, different body types, and different languages than our own. In certain parts of this country the institutional segregation is so embedded, that a white person having a meal in the home of a black family is practically a revolutionary act. We need to make the effort to get out of our comfort zones so that is no longer the case. Because if you really stop and think about it, it’s ridiculous.
How have readers responded to The Truth of Right Now? How do their responses shape you as a writer?
To answer your first question: Strongly. Many people have shared with me how it affected them emotionally and, of course, most of my friends and loved ones have heaped praise on the book. I’ve also gotten some lovely feedback from a lot of people I don’t know, which has been gratifying. However, I know there are some folks who don’t like this book at all. I get it. It is not an easy story to swallow. It doesn’t offer easy answers. And the protagonists are lovable and flawed because people are lovable and flawed. Though this is my first novel, I’ve been writing for years and have learned to take all feedback, including positive, with caution. Bottom line: if I agree with what someone has said, it will influence my work. If I don’t, it won’t.
What do you hope readers take away from your novel?
I hope they’ll look at themselves with clear eyes and think about the choices they’ve made and will make. I hope they’ll look at their classmates, the ones that they don’t talk to, a little bit differently. A bit more openly. Maybe they’ll ask themselves question like “What are the assumptions I make about others?” “Where do those assumptions come from?” And “Can I begin to challenge them?” I hope so.
Are there any books you’d recommend to readers who enjoyed The Truth of Right Now?
That’s tough because I’m so close to it. I’ve heard the book compared favorably to Jacqueline Woodson’s If You Come Softly, which is beautiful and everyone should read. I think people who’ve read my book would be able to answer this better than I can. But I will use this opportunity to plug a few YAs I love such as Sunday You Learn to Box by Bil Tsenga Wright, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, and Nova Ren Suma’s extraordinary 17 and Gone. There are so many wonderful YA books out there it’s kind of overwhelming, but in a good way! I recommend going to your bookstore’s teen section, and spending some real time perusing the titles and getting to know new authors. YA is for everyone.