A Conversation with Zalika Reid-Benta, author of FRYING PLANTAIN

No less than Booker-winner Paul Beatty has called Zalika Reid-Benta’s FRYING PLANTAIN “an unforgettable debut.This coming-of-age story about a young girl growing up in Toronto has resonated with readers for its specificity of its experience, as well as the universal qualities. Learn more about the book here, and also in our Q&A with the author.

Briny Books:  What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Zalika Reid-Benta: I don’t think I have that. I’m not trying to be humble, I am of course proud of my collection and proud of the stories I wrote and I am particularly proud of my dialogue. I love writing dialogue and I’m happy with how realistic people tell me it sounds, but I don’t think there’s a particular passage or story where I’m just blown away by my own work. I wish there was!

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: Hmm, I think it’s more the responses I’ve gotten to a particular story—“Snow Day” — have consistently surprised me because I wrote it to capture a particular time in a girl’s life but I didn’t think it would resonate with so many women because they all had a version of those events happen to them. So far it seems to be a favourite and I just didn’t expect that. 

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: I’ll never read any of the grandmother’s dialogue out loud because that requires a pitch perfect Jamaican accent, which I do not have!

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: When readers can relate to the book and that comes in many forms. I feel it in my heart when readers of Jamaican and Caribbean descent freak out over the title because they understand what it means without any explanation, when they can relate to the experiences I’ve written because they can see the ‘dutchpot’ or hear the slang, hear the dialogue and just know exactly what Kara is going through.

On the other hand, it’s also been great listening to non-Caribbean readers relate to certain aspects of the book as well, like the cruelty of teenhood and friendship and the insecurity of growing up. 

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Zalika Reid-Benta: Right now I’m actually not reading anything! I’m trying to get into my second project and I generally don’t read when I write.