The acclaimed novelist talks about Detroit, Hillary Clinton and Kanye GIFs — and how she found out about Russell and Ciara
Rarely is Detroit depicted beyond its reputation as a city in turmoil, but author Angela Flournoy with her The Turner House goes deeper. Set in 2008, the acclaimed 2015 novel — a National Book Award finalist — is the story of 13 siblings who find out that the big home in which they were raised (their mother Viola owns it but no longer lives there), is worth a tenth of what they owe. Oldest sibling Cha-Cha is haunted, youngest sibling Lelah has been secretly squatting in the big home, and the whole family is trying to figure out what to do with each other in a city fighting to keep its identity. Flournoy herself grew up in southern California, and frequented Detroit because her father grew up there. She talked to The Undefeated about ahi tuna, the magic of Beloved, Detroit people on Twitter, visual art on Instagram, and that still amazing Another Round interview with Hillary Clinton.
How do you keep yourself connected to Detroit when you aren’t there physically?
It’s a place close to my heart. Every single morning, I read the front page and usually the op-ed sections of Detroit Free Press and Detroit Daily. [When I was writing the book] I was following Detroit people. I was following dream hampton when she was on Twitter, and I miss her on Twitter. She just had a wealth of information about underground art in Detroit. I followed Aaron Foley, who had a book called How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass (2015). I just followed interesting black people on Twitter. I wanted to present a multifaceted picture of the city. I tried to really immerse myself in its culture. I also treated myself to snacks.
What kind of snacks do you like?
Oh, man. My new thing right now are poke bowls. They’re big in L.A. but they’re just becoming a thing [on the East Coast]. It’s usually ahi tuna, but it could be all kinds of raw fish. They have masago, chives. It’s like a sushi roll piled together in a bowl — kind of like Chipotle rice bowls.
My favorite meme, because I’m very impressed by the ingenuity of black internet users, is the Crying Jordan meme. It keeps rising from the ashes. Just when you think it’s dead, it’s back. At first I was like, ‘I hate this meme, I need it to die.’ But people keep giving it new life in ways that I’m interested in. I never use it myself — it requires some low-budget photoshop skills to put him on someone, and I don’t even have those.
What’s a GIF that you love?
My fave is the Kanye shrug GIF. There are two. I like the Kanye shrug with red in the background. The real … Kanye shrug is quick — it’s too quick. He does it and then he’s off the stage. I have one friend that I send a lot of GIFs to. I’ve been getting a lot of use of the Hillary shrug lately.
What’s your most frequently used emoji?
Let me see, as long as it’s not eggplant, I think I’m in the clear. Most frequently is the eyeballs 👀 , the prayer hands/high-five 🙏. I use them as prayer hands. And the newer thinking emoji.
Is there a news app you use?
I have the WNYC app on my phone. Sometimes I’ll listen.
Speaking of WNYC, do you listen to podcasts?
I listen to the PostBourgie podcast — I’m PostBourgie-affiliated, so I’m biased. I’ve been on some episodes interviewing other people, and they interviewed me for one episode. I listen to Another Round. I think they’re really smart and serious. They had the best interview with Hillary I’ve heard in a very long time.
What about entertainment news?
I gave up celebrity news as my New Year’s resolution in 2008. It was a lot of head space dedicated to people I do not know. So often there were weird gender things happening. I just felt like it wasn’t good for me. The only exception is when I go through phases of really caring about what I’m wearing. I’ll check Fashion Bomb Daily a lot. It’s about clothes, but you see celebrities doing stuff. That’s probably how I found out Ciara was dating Russell Wilson.
Whose Instagram account are you into right now?
There’s a visual artist, Toyin Ojih Odutola. She does these great, intense drawings. She puts up works in progress. Sometimes when I’m writing at 2 in the morning, I’ll see that. You can see the very incremental progress. I’ll see that she’s awake and in her studio, and it’s very inspiring: Like, ‘Look! Incrementally, things can get done!’
We talked about Detroit people, but are there other accounts on Twitter you like to follow?
I’m a big fan of Tracy Clayton’s twitter account at BuzzFeed. There’s also a person — I don’t know if this person is real — named Duchess Goldblatt. There’s a copy editor named Ben Dreyer, who just tweets shady copy editing. He works at Random House, I want to say. He subtweets things that are trending on Twitter from the copy editing perspective, and I find that really funny.
Last book that you read?
I just finished something from Jacqueline Woodson. She won the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming (2014). Her first adult book is called Another Brooklyn. It was excellent. Short, really impactful.
And what about your favorite books?
Probably Beloved. Toni Morrison’s Beloved  is a book that doesn’t even bum me out, I’ve read it so many times. It’s just like magic, the way it works on me. It’s a book that I can read over and over and over again. It’s one of those books where it’s like, ‘How did this even get made?’
Do you remember the last museum you went to?
This is going to increase my stalker level. The last exhibit was at the Jack Shainman Gallery to see the Toyin Ojih Odutola’s latest collection. The last gallery before that was the Papillion gallery. It’s a black-owned gallery in Leimert Park in L.A., and I was [in the area] at Eso Won Books. It was the first place I did a reading when my book came out.
Where do you feel like your courage comes from?
It comes from the way I grew I up. I have a mother — she just retired after working for 40 years at the phone company — who spent a lot of time when I was young on conference calls in the house. When I was young I would just listen to her navigate tense conversations where it was clear that she was the only black person, sometimes the only woman, on the phone call. She would really always rise to the occasion. That was instilled. I come from, as Kanye calls it, a big Auntie team. I have a lot of really inspiring black women in my life. I think it comes from there.
What will you always champion?
I will always champion audacious black women. That is what I will always champion. Even if they’re not always right! I think the world needs more of us.
What’s next for you?
I have a fellowship coming up next year at the New York Public Library Cullman Center. I’m really excited about that. I had to give them a proposal. It’s the first time they put in public what my next book is about. It’s about black women’s friendship over decades. I’m very interested in looking at my mother and at my aunts and how their friendships have changed and sustained them over decades. My next book is about a lot of other things, but it’ll be about that.