With every heated discussion about new immigration legislation, what’s often lost in the conversation are the incredible stories of the immigrants who have made America their home. This narrative gets top billing in Ibi Zoboi’s American Street, a gorgeous glimpse at life in Detroit as a young Haitian immigrant. In between balancing new-kid-at-school challenges, new BFFs (in the form of her cousins), and an exciting romantic love interest, Fabiola must also deal with the fact that her mother is gone — detained by immigration and stuck in legal limbo. American Street is a stunning, captivating read that will have you questioning just what the “American Dream” means today. We caught up with Zoboi and chatted creativity, new reads on her shelf, and more. Scroll on to learn more from this incredible author!
Brit + Co: Describe your book in six words or less.
Ibi Zoboi: American dreams can sometimes be nightmares.
B+C: Where/when do you do your best writing?
IZ: I do my best writing at my desk, sitting on my yellow chair, sipping from a yellow mug, next to a window with yellow curtains, at around five o’clock in the morning.
B+C: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for book research?
IZ: Looked up all my ex-boyfriends from high school to see which ones were still alive and not in jail.
B+C: What’s your go-to cure for when you’re stuck in a creativity rut?
IZ: I take a three-mile walk around the park while listening to certain songs that I think fit the mood of the story. Or I take a shower. Showers, walks, and music are magic!
B+C: What two lady heroes do you turn to for inspiration, and why?
IZ: Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series, and Lauren “Oya” Olamina from the Parable series by Octavia Butler. Those two young women love their families and their communities and rise to the occasion when power threatens to further suppress their people. They are not completely fearless, but they manage their fears for a greater good. I try to include those same qualities in my characters even in a romance novel or a quirky middle-grade novel.
B+C: What’s your latest Instagram (or Tumblr/Twitter/media) obsession?
IZ: I love Instagram the most, so I have a few faves. I’ve been following Mimi G Style (@mimigstyle) for some time. I used to sew as well, and in another life, I would’ve been a fashion designer. I love Mimi’s style. We’re the same age and are both moms of three with short haircuts.
I absolutely love Finding Paola (@findingpaola). She is gorgeous and has impeccable style. She’s Haitian like me so her colors remind me of home. (Editor’s note: Check out our story on Paola and her gorgeous headwrap brand!)
I also love bite-sized Insta-poetry. Nayyirah Waheed (@nayyirah.waheed) words are thoughtful, wise, and beautiful.
B+C: Can you name a book that you think deserves a little more love + recognition?
IZ: I want to name two that I especially loved this year. Katie Bayerl’s A Psalm for Lost Girls is a beautiful book that delves deep into spirituality, faith, and miracles. And I always love how Renee Watson examines sisterhood, and in Piercing Me Together; she unpacks classism, mentorship, and the inner lives of black girls.
B+C: What’s next on your to-read pile?
IZ: It’s summer, and my children are at sleep-away camp, so I’m getting lost in adult books, which I haven’t read in a while. I’m currently dissecting Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, finally. Then I’m going to dive into Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose.
B+C: What advice do you have for aspiring creative ladies?
IZ: Making time for a mani-pedi is part of the creative process. Even if you plan to spend a few hours at home typing away at a story, dress up for the occasion. Self-care fuels the creative soul. Show up for your creative self and look good while being fully present.
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(Featured photo via Ibi Zoboi)