INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A Good Morning America, Esquire, and Read with Marie Claire Book Club Pick and a People Best Book of Summer
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 by Time, TheWashington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly, Marie Claire, Bustle, BuzzFeed, Parade, Goodreads, Fortune, and BBC
Urgent, propulsive, and sharp as a knife, The Other Black Girl is an electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
One of the biggest books of the season is Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl, a debut that starts out as a simple, charming story about a young Black woman working at a prestigious publishing house (Harris worked at Knopf) and turns into something altogether different and unexpected. When another Black girl shows up to work at the publisher, the drama is set into motion. Are they allies? Enemies? Neither? And who is leaving threatening notes? Billed as a thriller, and even horror, The Other Black Girl is something else altogether—its own thing—which means readers going in with preconceived expectations are unlikely to find them as they move through the novel. But Harris is tuned to her story, and open-minded readers will be, too. This is one to think about, and talk about, for a long time after. –Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review
“Filled with twists both unsettling and unexpected . . . such a timely read.” ― TIME
“A thrilling, edgier Devil Wears Pradathat explores privilege and racism.” ― Washington Post
“Harris’ genre-bending evisceration of workplace privilege is set to become the debut of the summer.” ― Entertainment Weekly
“Harris isn't afraid of taking risks in this book, pushing the plot to thrilling heights. As extraordinary as The Other Black Girl's story becomes, it's rooted in all-too-real social problems.” ― Oprah Daily
“Wholly earned brilliance. Harris makes her entrance as an author with singular style. Whatever she does next might seem quieter, but watch for it: It will be brilliant.” ― NPR
“Funny and subversive, this debut about the trials of a Black assistant at a mostly white publishing house uses suspense, horror and satire to bring home the toll of workplace racism.” ― People
“A debut novel that is the perfect mix of social commentary and fast-paced thriller. Poignant, daring, and darkly funny, The Other Black Girl will have you stressed and exhilarated in equal measure through the very last twist.” ― Vulture
“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” -- EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel
“Witty, inventive, and smart, The Other Black Girl goes deeper to take on class privilege, race, and gender in a narrative that slyly plays along the edges of convention. Zakiya Dalila Harris’s debut is a brilliant combustion of suspense, horror, and social commentary that leaves no assumption unchallenged and no page unturned.” -- WALTER MOSLEY, internationally bestselling author of Devil in a Blue Dress
“A satire of the clueless racial politics at a prestigious literary house with, in its second half, a horror-movie twist." ― Wall Street Journal
“Filled with twists and moments that make you think, Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl is the sharp, compulsive thriller you need this June.” ― Shondaland
"A pulpy, joyous thrill ride of a book." ― Vox
“Harris is excellent at capturing the way a job can become a person's whole identity, and takes readers on a bracing, whip-smart, piercingly funny trip into a supposedly enlightened industry — and world — where racism, classism, and sexism all conspire to destabilize anyone who isn't willing to play the game.” ― Refinery 29
“Harris succeeds in capturing office machinations with a deftness and grace that brings it all to life… [Her] writing propels you forward through the story. She can deliver paragraphs of back story and inner monologue without leaving her reader feeling overwhelmed or disengaged.” ― New York Times Book Review
“Initially satirical and then spectacularly creepy [...] This unique thriller [has] echoes of both Jordan Peele and, in the end, George Orwell.” ― Washington Post
“A sly satire and thriller rolled into one.” ― BBC
“[A] perceptive exploration of racism in publishing, wrapped up in a whip-smart story of young women at war in the workplace.” ― Los Angeles Times
"This twisty thriller will resonate with anyone who has struggled to find her voice as the only Black woman in the room." ― Essence
“[A] brilliant debut …The novel takes some bold stylistic risks that pay off beautifully, leaving the reader longing for more of Harris's words and unique view on the world.” ― Vogue
“Swerves beyond the conventions of the genre, into territory between psychological thriller and sci-fi […] Harris reinvents the office novel.” ― The New Republic
"A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary . . . will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist." ― The Rumpus
“Very, very sharp social commentary about racial tension and bias…my money’s on it being the ‘it’ book of the summer.” -- Deputy Editor of The New York Times Book Review Tina Jordan on WNYC’s All of It
"OMG, as the kids say. This is the funniest, wildest, deepest, most thought-provoking ride of a book. I have been Nella. Every black woman has been Nella. Zakiya Dalila Harris has pulled back the curtain on the publishing industry, but in doing so, she has also perfectly captured a social dynamic that exists in job cultures as varied as tech, finance, academia, even retail and fast food. Oh, beware of the 'OBGs'—Other Black Girls—y’all. As we should all be aware of the psychic cost to black women of making ourselves palatable to institutions that use our cultural cache for their own ends while disregarding any part of our hearts and minds that they either can’t or won’t understand." -- ATTICA LOCKE, New York Times bestselling author of Heaven, My Home
“While the plot takes a darker turn into thriller territory, this read is ideal for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or dismissed in the workplace.” ― Fortune
"Electrifying and ingenious, Zakiya Dalila Harris's The Other Black Girl is essential reading!" -- TERRY MCMILLAN, New York Times bestselling author of It's Not All Downhill From Here
“A funny, sometimes creepy indictment of the book business." ― New York Times
“ The Other Black Girl is unlike anything I've ever read before. Wholly original, powerful, and a gripping page turner. This is the kind of book that turns authors into stars and the readers into rabid fans. I cannot wait to see what Zakiya does next.” -- PHOEBE ROBINSON, bestselling author of You Can't Touch My Hair
“A brilliant, twisty, and highly relevant thriller…Perfect for fans of Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching, or Amina Akhtar’s #FashionVictim.” ― Lit Hub
“[A] buzzy debut set in publishing that explores race and class in the workplace.” ― The Guardian
“Wise and funny and it does what the best books do—it opens up a whole world of two young Black women in the very white world of publishing, making the narrative both eye-opening social commentary and a delicious thriller. A mega-talented new author who deserves all the buzz building for her now—and every accolade she is surely going to get.” -- CAROLINE LEAVITT, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and With or Without You
"[An] edgy, satirical thriller." ― Parade
"A can't-miss title for 2021." ― Harper's Bazaar
“ A dazzling, darkly humorous story… the novel overflows with witty dialogue and skillfully drawn characters, its biggest strength lies in its penetrating critique of gatekeeping in the publishing industry and the deleterious effects it can have on Black editors. This insightful, spellbinding book packs a heavy punch.” ― Publishers Weekly (starred)
“A big-buzzing, thriller-edged literary debut.” ― Library Journal
“An intimate and specific look at the joys and pains of being a Black woman, especially one working in a majority-white industry... The Other Black Girl is hysterical, intimate, and warm—and bristling with dread. Every page pulls you deeper into the nightmare, coiling tighter and tighter until before you know it, there's no escape.” -- ELISABETH THOMAS, author of Catherine House
“This thriller will be one you won't be able to put down.” ― Today Show
“ The Other Black Girl is a brilliant, witty, thought-provoking book readers will find hard to put down. Full of twists, Harris has delivered a riveting account of the power dynamics Black women must navigate.” -- MAURICE CARLOS RUFFIN, author of We Cast a Shadow
“A psychological thriller for the modern-day working girl . . . filled with suspenseful twists and turns.” ― PopSugar
"In this deliciously scathing send-up of the blindingly white world of New York City book publishing, a big house hires their second Black editorial assistant, and chaos ensues." ― Electric Literature
"Racist behavior in the workplace, white colleagues’ awkward attempts to pretend it doesn’t exist, and the exhaustion of being Black in white spaces are all encapsulated in a pitch-perfect way by Harris . . . this compelling debut thriller will be in demand; a must for public libraries." ― Booklist (starred)
"Slyly brilliant . . . a nuanced page-turner, as sharp as it is fun. A biting social satire–cum-thriller; dark, playful, and brimming with life." ― Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"I tore through Zakiya Dalila Harris's The Other Black Girl, a hilarious yet spine-chilling send-up of the whiteness of the publishing world, with my jaw on the floor. Its detailed dissection of the complex forces that curtail Black ambition is by turns tender and utterly lacerating, combining the nuance of a Kiley Reid with the twisted gut-punches of Bamboozled. It draws you in with a laugh and a smile, then shoves you into a nightmare you won't be able to shake off. A simply brilliant debut." -- AMY GENTRY, bestselling author of Good as Gone, Last Woman Standing, and Bad Habits
"This book is the perfect mixture of edge-of-your-seat thrills and biting social commentary that will get readers talking." ― BookRiot
"We’re going to hear a lot about this book for years to come, and I can’t wait." ― Goodreads
“Brilliantly positioned at the intersection of satire and social horror, The Other Black Girl incorporates subversively sharp and sly cultural commentary into an addictive and surprisingly dark tale of suspense. Harris displays a distinctive style all her own….a flair for metaphor and a carefully calibrated surrealist perspective. Thoughtful, provocative and viscerally entertaining, The Other Black Girl is a genre-bending creative triumph.” ― BookPage (starred)
“Part The Devil Wears Prada, part Get Out, Harris’s debut is suspenseful, riveting, and darkly funny, with a chilling ending that speaks a devastating truth. The setup to a surprising twist is introduced so deftly that the revelation comes as a delight, pushing the boundaries of the genre.” ― Library Journal (starred)
“[An] incisive debut novel […] The author, herself a former assistant in publishing, delivers not just a critique of the industry’s lack of diversity but an imaginative commentary on the personal and professional sacrifices that Black women make in order to fit into white-dominated spaces.” ― The New Yorker
“The thriller of the summer, and quite possibly of the year […] It’s the smartest book I’ve read in years about the horrors of competition, old-fashioned gaslighting, and being in thrall to a murky past.” ― CrimeReads
Zakiya Dalila Harris spent nearly three years in editorial at Knopf/Doubleday before leaving to write her debut novel The Other Black Girl. Prior to working in publishing, Zakiya received her MFA in creative writing from The New School. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Guernica, and The Rumpus. She lives in Brooklyn.
July 23, 2018
The first sign was the smell of cocoa butter.
When it initially crept around the wall of her cubicle, Nella was too busy filing a stack of pages at her desk, aligning each and every one so that the manuscript was perfectly flush. She was so intent on completing this task—Vera Parini needed everything to be flush, always—that she had the nerve to ignore the smell. Only when it inched up her nostrils and latched onto a deep part of her brain did she stop what she was doing and lift her head with sudden interest.
It wasn’t the scent alone that gave her pause. Nella Rogers was used to all kinds of uninvited smells creeping into her cubicle—usually terrible ones. Since she was merely an editorial assistant at Wagner Books, she had no private office, and therefore no walls or windows. She and the other open-space assistants were at the mercy of a hard-boiled egg or the passing of gas; they were often left to suffer the consequences for what felt like an hour afterward.
Adjusting to such close proximity had been so difficult for Nella during her first few weeks at Wagner that she’d practiced breathing through her mouth even when it wasn’t called for, like when she was deciding between granolas at the grocery store, or when she was having sex with her boyfriend, Owen. After about three months of failed self-training, she had broken down and purchased a lavender reed diffuser that had the words JUST BREATHE scrawled across its front in gold cursive letters. Its home was the far corner of her desk, where it sat just beneath the first edition of Kindred that Owen had given her shortly after they started dating.
Nella eyed the gold foil letters and frowned. Could it have been the lavender diffuser she smelled? She inhaled again, craning her neck upward so that all she could see were the gray and white tiles that lined the ceiling. No. She’d been correct—that was cocoa butter, alright. And it wasn’t just any cocoa butter. It was Brown Buttah, her favorite brand of hair grease.
Nella looked around. Once she was sure the coast was clear, she stuck her hand into her thick black hair and pulled a piece of it as close to her nose as she could. She’d been proudly growing an afro over the last three years, but the strand still landed unsatisfyingly between her nose and her cheek. Nonetheless, it fell close enough to tell her that the Brown Buttah smell wasn’t coming from her own hair. What she was smelling was fresh, a coat applied within the last hour or so, she guessed.
This meant one of two things: One of her white colleagues had started using Brown Buttah. Or—more likely, since she was pretty sure none of them had accidentally stumbled into the natural hair care aisle— there was another Black girl on the thirteenth floor.
Nella’s heart fluttered as she felt something she supposed resembled a hot flash. Had it finally happened? Had all of her campaigning for more diversity at Wagner finally paid off?
Her thoughts were cut short by the loud, familiar cackle of Maisy Glendower, a squirrelly editor who appreciated modulation only when someone else was practicing it. Nella combed through the bray, listening hard for the hushed voice that had made Maisy laugh. Did it belong to a person of a darker hue?
Startled, Nella looked up from her desk. But it was just Sophie standing above her, arms wrapped snugly around the side of her cubicle wall, eyes as wide and green as cucumbers.
Nella groaned inwardly and clenched a fist beneath her desk. “Sophie,” she mumbled, “hi.”
“Haaaay! What’s up? How are you? How’s your Tuesday going?”
“I’m fine,” Nella said, keeping her voice low in case any more audible clues floated her way. Sophie had tamed her eyes down a bit, thank goodness, but she was still staring at Nella as though there was something she wanted to say, but couldn’t.
This wasn’t unusual for a Cubicle Floater like Sophie. As Cubicle Floaters went, she wasn’t the worst. She didn’t play favorites, which meant that your chances of seeing her more than once a week were slim. She was usually too busy hovering beside the cubicle of another assistant, her lazy smile reminding you of how good you didn’t have it. By the luck of the draw, Sophie worked for Kimberly, an editor who’d been at Wagner Books for forty-one years. Kimberly had edited her first and last bestseller in 1986, but because this bestseller had not been just a bestseller—it had been adapted into a television show, a blockbuster film, a graphic novel, an adult film, a musical, a podcast, a miniseries, and another blockbuster film (in 4DX)—she was granted a pass on every non-bestseller that followed. Royalties were nothing to laugh at.
Now nearing the end of her long career, Kimberly spent most of her time out of the office, and Nella suspected Sophie spent most of her time waiting for Kimberly to kindly retire already so that she could take her place. In a year, maybe less, it would dawn on Sophie that her boss wasn’t going anywhere unless someone told her to, and no one ever would. But for now, Sophie hung on naively, just as every single one of her predecessors had.
“Kim’s still out,” Sophie explained, even though Nella hadn’t asked. “She sounded awful on the phone yesterday.”
“Which procedure is she getting done this time?”
Sophie grabbed the taut bit of flesh between her chin and her clavicle and wiggled it around.
“Ah. The crucial one.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “Yep. She probably dropped more on that than we make here in a month. By the way, did you see…?” She cocked her head in the direction of Maisy’s voice.
“Did I see what?”
“I think Maisy’s got another potential candidate in.” Sophie tossed her head again, this time adding in a suggestive, wiggling eyebrow. “And I don’t know for certain, but she seems like she might be… you know.”
Nella tried to keep from grinning. “No, I don’t,” she said innocently. “Might be what?”
Sophie lowered her voice. “I think she’s… Black.”
“You don’t have to whisper the word ‘Black,’?” Nella chided, even though she knew why Sophie did: Sounds, like smells, carried over cubicle walls. “Last time I checked, that was a socially acceptable word to use. I even use it sometimes.”
Sophie either ignored her joke or didn’t feel comfortable laughing at it. She leaned over and whispered, “This is so great for you, right? Another Black girl at Wagner? You must be so excited!”
Nella withheld eye contact, turned off by the girl’s intensity. Yes, it would be great to have another Black girl working at Wagner, but she was hesitant to do a celebratory Electric Slide sequence just yet. She’d only believe that the higher-ups at Wagner had finally considered interviewing more diverse people when she saw it. Over the last two years, the only people who’d been interviewed or hired were Very Specific People who came from a Very Specific Box.
Nella looked up from her desktop at Sophie, who happened to be one of these Very Specific People, and who was still chattering on. Over the course of just a few minutes, Sophie’d managed to talk herself onto a train of social awareness, and it was clear she had no intention of getting off anytime soon. “It reminds me of that anonymous op-ed BookCenter article I sent you last week—the one I swore you had to have written, because it just sounded so you—about being Black in a white workplace. Remember that piece?”
“Yeah, I do… and for the tenth time, I definitely didn’t write that article,” Nella reminded her, “even though I can obviously relate to a lot of the stuff that was in it.”
“Maybe Richard saw it and decided to do something about the lack of diversity here? I mean, that would be something. Remember how hard it was just to get people talking about diversity in one place? Those meetings were painful.”
To call them meetings seemed gratuitous, but Nella wasn’t in the mood to go down that slippery slope. She had more important things to pursue. Like how to get rid of Sophie.
Nella reached for her phone, let out a small groan, and said, “Whoa! Is it already ten fifteen? I actually need to make a very important phone call.”
“Aw. Darn.” Sophie looked visibly disappointed. “Okay.”
“Sorry. But I’ll report back!”
Nella would not report back, but she’d learned that punctuating too-long interactions with this promise made parting much easier.
Sophie smiled. “No prob. Later, girl!” she said, and off she went, as quickly as she’d come.
Nella sighed and looked around aimlessly, her eyes skipping over the stack of papers she still hadn’t delivered to her boss. In the grand scheme of things, the speed with which one could bring something from point A to point B should have zero effect upon whether that person deserved to be an assistant editor—especially since she’d worked for Vera, one of Wagner’s most exalted editors, for two years now. But things between them lately had been, for the lack of a better word, weird. Their anniversary check-in a few days earlier had ended on a less-than-savory note. When Nella had asked for a promotion, Vera had listed at least a dozen surprise grievances she’d had with Nella’s performance as her assistant, the last being the most unsettling of all: “I wish you’d put half the effort you put into those extracurricular diversity meetings into working on the core requirements.”
The word “extracurricular” had hit Nella hard and fast in the eye, like a piece of shrapnel. The company basketball team, the paper-making club— those were extracurriculars. Her endeavors to develop a diversity committee were not. But she’d smiled and said thank you to her boss, who’d started working at Wagner years before Nella was even born, and tucked this piece of information into her back pocket for safekeeping. That was where she believed any dreams of letting her Black Girl Flag fly free would have to remain.
But now the smell of Brown Buttah was hitting her nose again, and this time, there were telltale sounds: First, Maisy’s practiced joke about Wagner’s zany floor plan (“It makes about as much sense as the science in Back to the Future”); then, a laugh—deep, a bit husky around the edges, but still cocoa butter smooth at its core. Genuine, Nella could tell, as brief as it was.
“… impossible. I swear, once you find where one person sits, you’ll never find them a second time!” Maisy cackled again, her voice growing louder as she led her companion closer to her office.
Realizing that they would have to walk by her own cube to get there, Nella looked up. Through the small crack in her partition, she spotted the swath of dark locs, the flash of a brown hand.
There was another Black person on her floor. And given Maisy’s spiel, this Black person was here for an interview.
Which meant in the next few weeks, a Black person could quite possibly be sitting in the cube directly across from Nella. Breathing the same air. Helping her fend off all the Sophies of the Wagner office.
Nella wanted to put a victorious fist in the air, 1968 Olympics–style. Instead, she made a mental note to text Malaika this latest Wagner update the earliest chance she got.
“I hope your trip wasn’t too long,” Maisy was saying. “You took the train from Harlem, right?”
“Actually, I’m living in Clinton Hill right now,” the Black girl responded, “but I was born and raised on One Thirty-Fifth and ACP for a while.”
Nella sat up straighter. The girl’s words, which sounded warmer and huskier than the laugh that had fallen easily from her mouth, evoked a sense of Harlem cool that Nella had always wished she possessed. She also noted—with reverence and not a little bit of envy—how confident the girl sounded, especially when Nella recalled her own anxiety-inducing interview with Vera.
The footsteps were only inches away now. Nella realized she’d be able to get a good glimpse at the newcomer if she slid over to the far right of her cube, so she did exactly that, pretending to leaf through the manuscript Vera was waiting on while keeping one eye trained on the strip of hallway that led to Maisy’s office. Almost instantly, Maisy and her prospective dreadlocked assistant made their way into her periphery, and the full picture came into view.
The girl had a wide, symmetrical face, and two almond-colored eyes perfectly spaced between a Lena Horne nose and a generous forehead. Her skin was a shade or two darker than Nella’s chestnut complexion, falling somewhere between hickory and umber. And her locs—every one as thick as a bubble-tea straw and longer than her arms—started out as a deep brown, then turned honey-blonde as they continued past her ears. She’d gathered a bunch and piled them on top of her head in a bun; the locs that hadn’t made it hung loosely around the nape of her neck.
And then there was the girl’s pantsuit: a smart-looking ensemble composed of a single-button marigold jacket and a matching pair of oversized slacks that hit a couple of inches above the ankle. Below that, a pair of red patent leather high-heeled ankle boots that Nella would have broken her neck just trying to get into.
It was all very Erykah-meets-Issa, another detail Nella was filing away for Malaika, when she heard Maisy ask the girl to explain what “ACP” meant. And it was a good thing she had, because Nella hadn’t known, either.
“Oh, sorry—that’s Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard,” the girl said, “but that’s kind of a mouthful.”
“Oh! Of course. A mouthful indeed. Harlem is such a great neighborhood. Its history is just so rich. Wagner held an event at the Schomburg earlier this year—February I think it was—for one of our authors. It was very well received.”
Nella fought back a snort. Maisy hadn’t attended this aforementioned event; what’s more, Nella was willing to bet her middle name that the Museum of Natural History was as far north as Maisy had ever traveled in Manhattan. Maisy was a kind enough woman—she made bathroom small talk as well as the next senior-level employee—but she was fairly limited in her sense of what “the city” entailed. Just the mention of Williamsburg, despite its Apple Store, Whole Foods, and devastating selection of designer boutiques, caused Maisy to recoil as though someone had just asked to see the inside of her vagina. Surely this dreadlocked girl could sense that Maisy had no true sense of Harlem’s “culture.”
Nella wished she could see the look on the Black girl’s face, but they’d already started to enter Maisy’s office, so she had to settle for a chuckle in its place. It was subtle, but in the milliseconds that passed before Maisy shut her door, Nella was able to detect amusement at the end of that chuckle—an exasperated kind of amusement that asked, without asking, You don’t spend time with Black people often, do you?
Nella crossed her fingers. The girl probably didn’t need it, but she wished her luck, anyway.