When I started writing The Other Black Girl, I already had an ending in sight. I knew for sure that there were going to be these two Black women in this very white workplace, and I knew there would be something wrong with one of them, Hazel — that she’d be off. And I knew that I wanted my protagonist, Nella, to fail. I wanted the reader to care about her and root for her, but I also wanted to show the price of working in these white corporate spaces. By the time I was writing the first draft, I already knew that publishing wasn’t for me. I enjoyed it when I started, but it beat me down. I could tell myself, I’ll write at home, I’ll write on the side, but publishing will be how I pay my bills. But it also wasn’t really paying all my bills. And it was exhausting. A lot of people were just not interested in talking about how we can help lower-level employees move up the ladder, how we can specifically help bring in more diverse voices. In my experience, a lot of Black women do not stay in these spaces. My dad worked at Golf Digest in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and he was discriminated against: He did not get promoted when he should have been, and he ended up filing a lawsuit. I won’t get into all of the details, but he settled out of court. I grew up with this idea of, You have to literally fight the system or get out in order to be heard. But I wanted to play around with a third option in the book, too: that Nella might fail but that her failure could be a kind of success, a way to finally be in control.
I did not nail the ending on the first try. I wanted the reader to understand why Nella would go under in the way that she did, because we’ve already seen her get really excited about Hazel and their friendship and then the friendship fizzles out. We’ve seen her get embarrassed at the office. I worked to make sure that we understood her insecurities and how Hazel stirs them up — about not being Black enough and about Nella’s desire to be the next big Black editor. I knew Nella and Hazel would connect over hair; Nella feels as though she has been on the outside of Black culture and Blackness her whole life, and I wanted this to be the thing the women would bond over. I also knew that Hazel would be some kind of robot. I just didn’t know exactly how.