Interview with Ibi Zoboi

Posted by Goodreads on September 3, 2018
It's a truth universally acknowledged that a YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice is bound to incite ardent passions. Especially when it's in the hands of American Street author and National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi. Pride reenvisions this beloved romance in a modern-day Brooklyn neighborhood, where the headstrong and ambitious Zuri Benitez clashes with the wealthy and arrogant Darius Darcy.

Although Zoboi follows the familiar beats of her source material, she provides a contemporary lens for examining issues such as class and gentrification. As she prepared for Pride's release, we asked Zoboi to take us deeper into Zuri and Darius' world and the struggles they face outside of their growing attraction to each other.

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Goodreads: So many readers are excited about your Pride and Prejudice retelling! What made you choose this particular Jane Austen classic?

Ibi Zoboi: Well, I really wanted to write a love story after American Street—something without trauma or tragedy, something sweet and thoughtful. But there was so much going on in our country at the time, with the elections and all. It was hard for me to focus on the sweetness of love. My earlier drafts were filled with so much politics and maybe even a little anger. I needed a story arc that was equal parts sweet and woke to ground my story. Retelling Pride and Prejudice came up during a conversation about smart love stories. Elizabeth Bennet was the hero and love interest I didn't know I needed. I wanted to update her so she could be relatable to teens. So Zuri is Lizzie: supersmart, politically aware, has big questions about her place in this world, and, yes, falls in love. Hard.

GR: What was your biggest challenge in writing a retelling? How did you balance the source material with your interpretation?

IZ: An earlier draft was written in a sort of a snarky third-person omniscient point of view, very much like the original story. But I felt it might be a little too distancing for teen readers. Zuri is 17, and she's definitely not an old maid questioning the viability of marriage in early 1800s England. With a character like Zuri, I wanted to get into her head and her heart. It was a challenge to hit all the plot points in the original, but there's such good stuff in Pride and Prejudice that, yes, I had to hit each one of them, if not the most important ones. It was fun coming up with the equivalents to Wickham, Mr. Collins, and Lady Catherine. I also added another layer to Zuri—something that deepens her aspirations of going to college. Zuri is also a poet, and through her poetry, I was able to sink deeper into her thoughts and feelings, something that doesn't really happen with Lizzie Bennet.

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GR: Let's talk about Zuri Benitez. She's described as having pride in her family, in her Afro-Latino roots, in her city, Brooklyn. In what ways is pride her strength? In what ways does pride hold her back?

IZ: Her pride is really in response to what she observes happening in her neighborhood. Zuri is always referring to her hood. Early in the story, she lets us know that she feels Bushwick is slowly slipping away. Her immediate reaction is to rep her block, her hood, her people. It's defiance, it's her protest. Her pride is mixed in with a little bit of fear. What is most true for Zuri is her love for her community and family. With the Darcys moving in across the street, she becomes protective of that love. It becomes an unwavering pride that easily shifts into prejudice. This is when her pride holds her back.

GR: One of Zuri's struggles is finding a place in her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. What is she most afraid of losing and why?

IZ: Zuri is most afraid of losing her sense of home and everything that is familiar to her. She really wants to go away for college, but she's terribly afraid that things will not be the same when she returns. Bushwick has been her safe space. On her block, everyone feels like family, every corner feels like home. But when people move in and out, the dynamics of her family and home begin to change. As a result, she may be forced to change, too.

GR: It's definitely not love at first sight when Zuri meets Darius Darcy. What can you tell us about the friction between them? Why do they clash? What's the source of their misunderstandings?

IZ: Darius is clearly fine. I mean, Zuri is smart, but she's not blind! But Darius turns up his nose at everything, and it doesn't help that Zuri has already formed ideas about the people moving in based on how the house across the street is renovated. Maybe it would've been different if Darius moved into an apartment like hers, or if his family had only spruced up that run-down house and not made it into something out of MTV's Cribs. The house, the car, and the clothes create a first impression in Zuri's mind, and Darius' uppity-ness is the exclamation point. It's a done deal. Darius is stuck-up, and Zuri can't stand him. For Darius, Zuri and her sisters are clearly thirsty T.H.O.T.s. He's used to getting that attention, of course, but to have them live right across the street? He isn't feeling that situation at all.

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GR: What was the best part about writing Zuri and Darius' dynamic?

IZ: I loved writing their dialogue. They have some alone time in the middle of the story, and it was fun to play with the banter and the silliness of it all. Zuri is wrong, Darius is wrong, and my goal was to have them try to one-up each other. There was a lot more sociopolitical stuff that I wrote into the story, but we needed to edit that out to get to the sexy times much sooner. Zuri surprised me by falling for Darius so quickly. Yes, I wrote it, but in the moment, I went back to my 17-year-old self. As a teen, I wasn't so headstrong and woke that I wouldn't fall for a cute guy who challenged me. I would've at least wanted a kiss before cursing him out and telling him to go to hell. And, maybe, another kiss. In that case, Zuri's reaction didn't surprise me that much. All writers write themselves into their stories, right?

GR: What do you hope readers will take away from Pride?

IZ: Black kids fall in love, too, and with each other. All the time. Seriously, it's not something that happens often in YA fiction.

GR: What other retellings would you love to do?

IZ: Lord of the Flies with inner-city kids; Othello; The Great Gatsby with an all-black cast; Frankenstein, but from up-cycled cellphone parts. There's two more, but I'm actually working on them.

GR: What trends do you want to see more of in the YA genre? Particularly in YA contemporary fiction?

IZ: More genre-bending and genre-mixing. More magical realism in stories featuring black characters. I'd like to see more fantasy featuring POC [people of color] that move away from the monarchy/royal family/royal magic frameworks. For YA contemporary, I'd love to see much more humor and more dark satire.

GR: Do you have any other writing projects that are in the works?

IZ: An anthology I edited, Black Enough: Stories of Being Black and Young in America, comes out in January, and it features an amazing lineup of authors. My debut middle grade, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, comes out next summer, and I'm very, very excited about that one. I'm also working on my next contemporary magical realist YA novel, and it's challenging and epic and will transform me in tremendous ways. Also, some fun things I can't share yet. So, yes, I like juggling multiple projects.

GR: What YA books should our readers be devouring?

IZ: A book that blew me away in terms of its depth and scope is the forthcoming Dream Country by Shannon Gibney, due out on September 11. Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender, and What If It's Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli.

GR: What books are up next on your Want to Read Shelf?

IZ: As an author, I get to read books that haven't hit the shelves yet. I am over the moon excited about Ben Phillippe's Field Guide to the American Teenager. I'm really looking forward to reading Emily X.R. Pan's The Astonishing Color of After.

Ibi Zoboi's Pride is now available. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf! Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews, and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Rowey This novel has NOTHING to do with Pride & Prejudice! Write whatever you like, but don't call it a rewrite of a classic novel. Ridiculous!


message 2: by nitya (new)

nitya So hyped for this book :D

message 3: by Gina (new)

Gina I cannot wait to read this!

Elisabeth Kennedy Hubbard Rebecca wrote: "This novel has NOTHING to do with Pride & Prejudice! Write whatever you like, but don't call it a rewrite of a classic novel. Ridiculous!


It's not a rewrite, it's a reinterpretation. As far as I know, there already have been several reinterpretations of P&P, and every movie, however faithful to the book, is a reinterpretation.
I loved the original, I loved the film "Bride and Prejudice", and am looking forward to this book!

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