The Chills at Will Podcast podcast

Episode 166 with Kai Harris, Skillful Chronicler of Joy, Grief, Loss, and Beauty through Her Stunningly Good Novel, What the Fireflies Knew

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Episode 166 Notes and Links to Kai Harris’s Work


    On Episode 166 of The Chills at Will Podcast, Pete welcomes Kai Harris, and the two discuss, among other things, her early reading, formative books like Anne of Green Gables and works she read later by Ernest Gaines and Toni Morrison, her current loves in terms of writers and writing, the power of flashback and juxtaposition, as well themes of grief, loss, racism, and many more from her book, and the interesting decision-making that went in to writing the book as she did.  


   Kai Harris is a writer and educator from Detroit, Michigan. She uses her voice to uplift the Black community through realistic fiction centered on the Black experience, and she is the author of What The Fireflies Knew, the first fiction title from Tiny Reparations Book. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Santa Clara University (GO BRONCOS!)


Buy What the Fireflies Knew


Kai Harris's Website


The New York Times “Shortlist” Features What the Fireflies Knew as Part of “The Lives of Black Women, at Home and Abroad”

At about 6:35, Kai shouts out places to buy her book (Keppler’s and BookShop Santa Cruz, among others) and upcoming events, in addition to describing the exciting audiobook and paperback extra features


At about 8:20, Kai describes the playlist she made for the paperback edition


At about 10:50, Kai talks about her early reading habits, including how she often read beyond her age, much like her book’s protagonists 


At about 11:45, Kai connects her choice of using Anne of Green Gables in her book to themes and connections in the book


At about 13:40, Kai relates how reading A Lesson Before Dying and other books by Black authors changed her literary mindset and worldview


At about 16:00, Kai recounts the importance of discovering Toni Morrison’s work


At about 17:00, Kai describes Jesmyn Ward (especially Salvage the Bones), as a writer who challenges and thrills her 


At about 18:55, Kai compliments some favorites in Destiny Birdsong and Deesha Philyaw


At about 22:10, Pete cites Ecclesiastes and a famous quote on stories as cyclical and related


At about 23:10, Kai responds to Pete’s questions about how Detroit has informed her and her writing, and she also describes how writing became a possibility for her


At about 25:45, Kai talks about working as a professor and how her different classes excite her in various ways


At about 29:10, Pete shares a meaningful quote from Kai’s Acknowledgments and asks Kai about seeds for the book


At about 31:30, Pete cites the book as enjoyable for many ages and wonders about how Kai and her publishers see the book’s place as young adult, etc.


At about 34:50, Pete lists some skillful use of childlike vocabulary and references that make the narrator’s POV so powerful and successful


At about 36:10, Pete highlights the book’s stunning opening line and the two discuss the importance of the book’s setting as a cultural turning point


At about 37:20, Pete lays out early events in the book as the book’s family grieves in different ways


At about 38:30, Pete asks Kai about the chronology of the book, as far as how she wrote it and how its flashbacks serve as strong juxtaposition; she gives background on different iterations of the book


At about 40:15, Kai details her thinking on depicting the father of KB in the book


At about 44:25, The two discuss the events surrounding a friendship and its implications; Pete highlights an especially moving scene involving Granddaddy


At about 46:30, Kai discusses the “lived realities” of racism that motivated her to write her book’s characters and events as she did


At about 49:35, Kai describes her mindset after being the victim of racism at a young age 


At about 51:00, Pete lays out the situation between Nia and KB and Kai responds to questions from readers about writing from Nia’s perspective 


At about 56:30, Kai talks about manifestations of grief shown by KB’s mom and expands upon her struggles and shares how she made the mother’s experience “radical”


At about 59:25, Pete and Kai discuss the fateful interactions between KB and Rondell and how she decided to write these scenes as they are


At about 1:03:25, Pete and Kai talk about Granddaddy and his life’s arc and guilt that he feels, as well as some wise words that he shares 


At about 1:05:30, Kai details her emotions in writing the ending


At about 1:07:10, Kai responds to Pete’s questions about what feedback she’s received regarding the book, as well as the ways in which her characters have become “people” of their own


At about 1:10:00, Kai outlines exciting future projects


At about 1:13:30, Kai describes exciting exposure for her book


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Please tune in for Episode 167 with Mai Der Vang is the author of Yellow Rain, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, an American Book Award, and a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, along with Afterland, winner of the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets. 

The episode will air on February 17.

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