Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Emmy-winning legal journalist and The View co-host Sunny Hostin says she took that quote to heart after realizing she was failing at finding that purposeful story she wanted to dive into.
“I remember so many times going into the airport bookstores and there was no escape for me,” Hostin tells The Hollywood Reporter. With the “bread and butter” of her business covering social justice stories and discussing police brutality and systemic racism, Hostin explains she typically seeks a “beach read” that not only entertains but adheres to her interests. But when she couldn’t find any, the idea sparked to write her own based on her personal experiences.
“I literally started thinking, ‘I’m going to write this,'” she recalls, explaining that “the idea poured out” to write a story centered on “beach communities that African Americans were historically known to be able to summer at” including Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, SAC Harbor in the Hamptons and High Point in Maryland. As a biracial woman, Hostin explains she not only visited each of the beach communities but has a “lived perspective,” which she felt would be important when writing her dream story and valuable content for readers: “I just pitched it to my agent and my agent was like, ‘Let’s go into Harper[Collins].’ “
The idea proved to be of interest to HarperCollins who signed Hostin to a three-book deal: “They were like, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for. We’ve been looking for this kind of diverse content because you’re right. People want to read this.’ And I was off to the races.”
Ahead of her fiction novel’s debut on Tuesday, Hostin chatted with THR about writing Summer on the Bluffs (William Morrow) — the first book in her forthcoming series. Just last year, Hostin released her debut memoir, I Am These Truths but, this time around, she describes the writing process as creatively liberating. “This book was so much easier to write than the memoir,” Hostin tells THR. “The memoir… that can be painful when you’re looking back on your life and talking about really difficult times in your life.”
Now Hostin is ready to offer readers a “fun beach read,” introducing characters Amelia “Ama” Vaux Tanner and her husband who welcome three “goddaughters” into their life: Esperanza “Perry” Soto, a talented Afro-Latina lawyer; Olivia Jones, a gifted Wall Street analyst; and Billie Hayden, a free-spirited marine biologist. Every summer, the goddaughters visit Ama at her Chateau Laveau home but everything changes when Ama, nearing seventy-one and widowed, announces that she moving to the south of France to reunite with her college sweetheart and invites Perry, Olivia, and Billie to spend one last golden summer together with her. But when the season ends, Ama reveals that she is going to give the house to one of them.
Though the book is “largely fictional,” Hostin emphasizes that for the characters and plot lines she used her own experiences as a frame of reference: “Billie is a character based off of my goddaughter. Perry is fictional, but based off of a lot of my experiences and Olivia is a conglomerate. She’s a couple of my friends for sure.”
During her writing process, Hostin says she created a “writers room” in which she recruited close friends, including ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis, to her house where they would enjoy each other’s company while Hostin read aloud the story for their thoughts and opinions. “They definitely helped me, make it even more authentic in a way,” Hostin says, laughing as she recalls being told by one of her friends that every beach read needed a good sex scene and she needed to “remember Fabio” when trying to craft it. She also reveals that she received insight from D.L. Hughley when writing one of the characters who is a comedian.
The characters span in age, which Hostin says she hoped that she could not only write a book that her mom and her friends “could talk about in a book club,” but also showcase the importance of centering a story on a strong older woman who shows her complexities and finds romance. “Why do people think that women turn 50 or, God forbid, 60 and disappear?” Hostin challenges. “I wanted to definitely have a romance for a woman over 60 because that does exist. I also wanted to have this sort of intergenerational story because who wouldn’t want a fairy godmother like Ama?”
Though on the surface the novel is summer escapism filled with romance and drama, below the surface Hostin highlights prominent issues such as race, class, identity, and sisterhood. In various moments, the characters discuss light skin privilege, something Hostin explains she hoped to convey in an “authentic way” and recalls having similar conversations amongst her friends: “I also wanted to handle it in a sensitive and delicate way and in a serious way, not in a way that’s heavy-handed; But in a way that gives it the merit that it deserves. I’ve seen women be really hurt by that issue and I wanted to ensure that I gave it the dignity and respect that it deserved and even start a conversation afterward.” She adds, “I just keep on thinking that if book clubs choose this book, perhaps that’s a topic that they’ll get into.”
Hostin sets her story in Oak Bluffs, a historic town located on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Through using the historical location for her novel’s setting, Hostin explores class and racial divides. When the character Ama visits Oak Bluffs, she is overwhelmed with the new world she was experiencing as Hostin writes in a passage, “Everywhere she looked, she saw well-heeled Black folk. Often when she watched films, she imagined what it would be like to buy a ticket, sit in a darkened theater, and spend two hours watching beautiful, successful people, falling in love, going off on adventures, having parties, with no regard to race or racism.”
Moments as such experienced by the character prove to be introspective for Hostin, who recollects her father telling her when she was younger about a place where Black people summered. “He was just like, ‘I want you to get the chance to experience that.’ ” After being invited to go, Hostin described her first visit as “life-changing.” “I had never seen anything like that,” Hostin says, acknowledging that many may not even truly know the history behind these beach communities.
In another passage, Hostin writes of a character scruffing at “the ideal that so many of the Black elite clung to — that of ‘our kind of people’ ” which she says she wanted to pay homage to late author and friend Lawrence Graham, who spent six years interviewing the wealthiest Black families in America for his book, Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class.
She explains, “I wanted to make sure that I addressed that in the book because not a lot of people do get to summer on Martha’s Vineyard, but by the same token, there are people that get to do that. It’s a world I think that Americans should know about because I think they think that African-Americans are like a monolith but there is this bourgeoisie that has been summering on Martha’s vineyard forever.”
As a woman of color, Hostin hopes using her experiences for her story can not only be relatable for readers of color but also spark important conversations: “When I first started in the business in journalism, it was like, ‘it’s just the facts ma’am and don’t ever bring your personal lived experience with you.’ And then Trayvon Martin happened and we see this racial pandemic that still goes on in our country. I just sort of think now, if you do have this lived experience, diversity and diverse perspective, it’s almost your superpower now, whereas before you were frowned upon. So, I’m really pleased to be able to bring this different type of story that just doesn’t exist. But now it does!”
While anticipating her book’s release, Hostin says she is already writing the second in the series which she teases she will introduce new characters but welcome some from Summer on the Bluffs. As she is now able to add published fiction author to her resume, Hostin teases she envisions writing more stories and even hopes to write another series centered on “the world of witches.”
But until then, she’s hopeful her beach story can give readers something to enjoy after facing a “really tough couple of years,” spark meaningful conversations and is excited to have offered “something for everyone.” And as Morrison guided, Hostin proudly reiterates, “I actually wrote the book that I wanted to read!”