Kenya Hunt is one of our OG Pretty Birds with a dynamic career that has grown from strength to strength. She’s a writer, editor, and creative consultant who has worked for major publications like Elle UK and written for Vogue and Marie Claire among other titles. Kenya is the founder of R.O.O.M Mentoring, an independent grassroots initiative that aims to help create space for marginalized groups in fashion. And now she’s added author to her bio with the upcoming launch of her first book, Girl: Essays on Black Womanhood in the UK and the US near the end of 2020.
Get to know more about Kenya Hunt and her Debut Book:
The launch is right around the corner, so we spoke to Kenya about launching a new book in the midst of a pandemic, her new projects and how she came to choosing her contributors.
All the Pretty Birds: Congratulations on the launch of your new book! It’s been in the works for a while – what prompted you to release a selection of essays?
Kenya Hunt: My love of black women, it’s as simple as that. I felt like there was a shared experience that I was living, witnessing and participating in that I wanted to explore in longer form than a magazine or newspaper article. I’ve always wanted to feel seen in the books and magazines I read and help other women do the same in the writing that I produce. I think print can be powerful as a form of validation, it feels permanent. that feeling that something is in the books. so I wanted to explore my experience of modern black womanhood, the nuances of it, and the experiences of women I knew. I also wanted to celebrate how we consistently show up for one another in a world that often does not.
ATPB: The name of the book comes from conversations with Black women in your life. There is a mention of how the word “Girl” has come full circle and holds multiple meanings in your essay. How has that change impacted you?
KH: I’ve always held a special place in my heart for the word ‘girl’ because of what it means to black women. I love that it’s one word, but also an entire love language. It has a multitude of meanings that change depending on how you say it, who is saying it and the context in which it’s being said, and that this spans generations! Some of my earliest memories of it are hearing my mom, her friends, my aunts and cousins use it in a range of ways. It tickles me that my son now associates this with me! There was a period in my life where I began to feel conflicted about it because I’d frequently see it used as caricature and to stereotype. To be honest, even in the promotion of this book, with it being titled what it is, there have been moments where people use it as caricature in ways that make me cringe. but this doesn’t change or take away from the meaning and joy I associate it with in my life.
ATPB: You mention how things shifted during the process of launching GIRL: On Womanhood and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magic. What was the initial feeling when you saw how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect your debut book and launch?
KH: Well, I immediately felt compelled to address the moment in the book. Our lives changed so radically, so quickly, from our adjusting to the reality of the pandemic to our grief over the murder of George Floyd, that I felt a need to write about it on a personal level as an act of self-care. But I felt strongly that the book needed to address this as I watched Black women rally and mobilize as powerful and pivotal change agents whether it be as essential key workers in the fight against COVID-19 or in the organized activism for Black Lives Matter and, most recently, in changing the tide of the U.S. election.
ATPB: 2020 has been a year of change, upheaval and reflections, and GIRL is coming at an apt time for Black women. For example, Daniel J. Cameron’s handling of the Breonna Taylor murder in Louisville, Kentucky emphasizes how Black women are one of the most, if not the most, undervalued groups globally; or in the case of Senator Kamala Harris, the sexist and stereotypical leaning criticism that she received after her debate with Mike Pence highlight how Black women have to contort or shrink themselves to conform to societal expectations. What are you hoping readers will take away from the book?
KH: I hope that black women will read this, feel recognized and seen and inspired to consider new ways to name and define ourselves, apart from the expectations of the world. I hope that readers of all backgrounds will stop and reflect on the assumptions we make about one another and how we can move forward with more empathy.
ATPB: You have some wonderful contributors on this book, from Freddie Harrel to Ebele Okobi, how did you select some of the essayists in this book and what was that process like?
KH: These are all women I find inspiring and either know as dear close friends or creatives I have admired from afar through my work as an editor. Ebele, Funmi and Jessica are among my tribe of chosen sisters, whose friendship sustains me here; a close, tight network of women who I see and speak to regularly. Freddie and Candice were dear friends in my head before I actually had met them. I had been following their work from a distance and then had an opportunity to meet them both on separate occasions through work (Freddie and I spoke on a panel together for the magazine i worked for at the time, and I cold called Candice and asked her for lunch due to our having mutual friends and my deep appreciation for her debut novel Queenie.)
All of these women had a compelling story. From Jessica’s work advocating for women’s rights throughout Africa to Ebele’s heartbreaking and enraging experience losing her brother to police brutality in California to Funmi’s insightful perspective from years navigating the beauty industry as a black woman and Freddie’s wholly relatable ever-evolving and ever-deepening love affair with her hair.
ATPB: One of the points mentioned in the book is how visible Black women are right now and how wonderful (and tiring) that can be. What are some self-care practices you do to stay afloat while navigating the world day-to-day?
KH: Daily meditations in the morning and long baths with a book in the evening have been getting me through these in-and-out-of-lockdown times.
GIRL: Essays on Black womanhood by Grazia UK Fashion Director, Kenya Hunt, is published by HQ, 26th November 2020 (available in hardback, eBook and audio).
Image via Ekua King
Related All the Pretty Birds Culture posts:
- Firsts with Kenya Hunt
- The Power in Embracing Silence
- Luxury Brands Should Work with Black Content Creators