Twenty-six-year-old Issa Rae first found her voice with her “Awkward Black Girl” Web series, which has hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers. Since then, she’s launched her own initiative called Color Creative, producing pilots for women and minority writers, has a talk show on the Aspire network and is producing an HBO show with Larry Wilmore called “Insecure.” Somehow, she found time to write a collection of essays about being a teen, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” We called up Rae to get her to dish even more.
You have no shortage of projects to keep you busy. Why a book?
I’ve always wanted to write a book, ever since I was a little girl. [Originally], I set out to write a fiction book, but I was having a conversation with my editor and she was like, "Why don’t you just write it about yourself? You’re an awkward person, so what experiences made you awkward?"
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How do you get to a mindset where you’re unafraid to put it all out there?
Initially, it felt like writing in a journal, like it was just for me. Writing is a really intimate process because you’re by yourself, so it just felt like me unloading on a page. It wasn’t until I turned it in and my editor gave me the manuscript that I was like, "Oh s—, people are going to read this!"
Who was the first person you let read it?
My younger sister was the first person to read it in its entirety. I sent it to her being like, "I’m having anxiety issues about all that I revealed. Can you please read it and let me know if it’s too TMI?" So she read it and was like, "You should let dad read it." I said, "Now there’s a thought."
Right. But I did and it forced us to talk about some things that I never had talked to him about before. He was completely supportive. He told me, "You come from the social media generation where you guys put it all out there and you signed up to write this book." That said, he also told me my family did not sign up for it and I should be mindful of that. So I did go back and censor it a bit.
The book is all about the awkward experiences you had when you were a teen. What do you wish you could tell your 15-year-old self?
That it gets better and not to try so hard. I just tried so hard. I know that’s the universal story of being a teen, but it still makes me cringe.
How does being an awkward teen compare with being an awkward 20-something?
Being awkward as a teen is more forgivable, but if you’re awkward as a 20-something people are more like, come on now. Even thinking about the conversations I have with my friends, when we talk about a guy being awkward with a girl, we’re just like, "Get it together!"
Your “Awkward Black Girl” Web series has been massively successful, and now you’re developing a show with HBO, which is a totally different beast. What has been the biggest challenge?
With the Internet, I have so much autonomy over my own creations. I write it, produce it, and then it’s online where people can watch it, and then I know whether or not people like it within five minutes. With TV, it’s a process. I just want people to see it. I’m so impatient.
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