Ashleah Gonzales Made Kendall Jenner a Literary It-Girl. Now, She’s a Published Poet.

Ashleah Gonzales

Photo courtesy of Ashleah Gonzales.

Kendall Jenner reading Miranda July. Kendall Jenner reading Melissa Broder. Kendall Jenner reading Chelsea Hodson—on a yacht, in Miami, wearing an orange bikini that perfectly complements the purple cover of Tonight I’m Someone Else. In the summer of 2019, every other paparazzi shot of the supermodel featured a hot alt-lit title as accessory. The person responsible for her curated stack? Her modeling agent, Ashleah Gonzales.

Gonzales had no idea that a birthday tradition with her client and friend would change her own life. But this week, she is releasing Fake Piñata, her first published writing, with Rose Books, the small press Hodson launched last year. In the collection of some 70 poems, it might as well be summer all the time. Gonzales is a wry observer of hazy, sticky relationships: “Baggy white one piece / on a high dive slim / ready and scared / sure but alone,” she writes. “I’ll jump in any way I wish…” She has a flair for the contemporary, dropping playful references between atmospheric distillations of our most basic feelings. On an April afternoon, she called from New York to chat with her former writer-crush and current collaborator Hodson, based in Sedona, about writing in transitory spaces and hiding your diaristic poetry from your male boss. Time will tell if Fake Piñata’s primary colored cover makes it into Page Six.


CHELSEA HODSON: I remember when we first talked on Instagram that you mentioned Sunsplash, which we still talk about now. It’s the water park that I wrote about in my book that you had also been to, and that’s how we realized that we grew up a couple miles from each other. And when we first met, I had asked, “Are you a writer?” You said, “Maybe,” which was so funny. That was October 2019, I believe, and now your book is about to be published.  At the time, I didn’t have any plans for Rose Books, so I wasn’t trying to acquire your book five years ago, but I really like thinking about that trajectory. It seemed so obvious to me that you were a writer, which was why I asked you that. Mainly from the books that you read, but also in the way that you carried yourself. Is it strange for you to now be known as a writer?

ASHLEAH GONZALES: Very much. It feels not necessarily like imposter syndrome, but it was always something I really wanted, so to embody that now feels very strange. Even if you asked me now, “Am I a writer?” I don’t know. But I mean, I guess I am. I have a book.

HODSON: Did you have many writer friends at the time, or do you feel like you were a secret writer until recently?

GONZALES: I think I was definitely a secret writer, but I’ve always been writing. It’s funny because I encounter so many celebrities and I’m never starstruck, but with authors I’ve always been like, “Oh my god.” I remember posting your part of your book and tagging you and you responded and I felt so starstruck by that.

HODSON: But posting a page from a book and tagging a writer means a lot because we don’t have the same publicity strategies as bigger forms of media. Greta was curious to talk more about Kendall reading Tonight I’m Someone Else, but I don’t even really remember the order of events. 

GONZALES: I always give her books for her birthday, my favorite books that I’ve read throughout the year that I feel like she would enjoy. So for her birthday that year, that was one of the gifts. It was littered with post-its. Literally every page was almost covered in post-its, and I remember putting one on the cover that was like, “Start here.” She read it when she was on a holiday and in a bikini, so it happened to catch fire and go everywhere.

HODSON: Yeah. To this day, magazines around the world write about this. I’m like, “That was 2019, people.” How did you feel about the power that you held in that moment? It wasn’t you in the photo, but you giving her that book caused a real cultural wave for a second.

GONZALES: It’s so weird because I didn’t think about it like that at all. I was just excited that she got something from it as well.

HODSON: Do you still give her books every year?

GONZALES: I do, yeah. It’s an ongoing thing that I’ve done for her birthday. If I enjoy a book, I’m like, “I got you this book” when I see her. She loves it and it makes me happy to see people reading.

GRETA RAINBOW: I have a question I can’t help but ask. Why do you guys think that it is so shocking or captivates the media to see a model reading?

GONZALES: I mean, I think mainly because typical models are really just for show. They’re almost like two-dimensional things, so to be multidimensional and both beautiful and have thoughts, I feel like people don’t associate those things together. It’s strange.

HODSON: And with the post-its, people just thought she was studying the book so intensely. I think that aspect really captivated people to see not just a book, but a marked-up book.

GONZALES: I mark up everything I love in a book. I used to give her a lot of short stories, so I would mark certain parts and be like, “Start at this story.” But for yours, I just liked a lot of parts.

HODSON: That’s very flattering. I want to talk more about you as a poet. I know that a lot of your writing gets done while traveling. You read and write a lot for how busy you are. Can you talk about that?

GONZALES: Yeah, I find myself on a plane or in a car or in a lounge at the airport a lot. Rather than being on my phone, I’ve always liked to use that time to pause and reflect. I’m also very inspired by being in transit. Each place brings out a different emotion, and that works well with my writing. I’m lucky that that’s the case because it’s where I’ve written the book.

HODSON: Yeah, and that must inform the theme of home, which appears in your book. This idea that home is maybe not a single location, or it’s a feeling. Were you aware of that theme as you were writing?

GONZALES: There were always undertones of home in everything that I’ve written, but I didn’t knowingly do that. When I started to read over a lot of the poems, I was like, “Wow, there’s this through line.” 

HODSON: You’ve also talked about how people are going to be reading your diary in a way because some of the poems feel so intimate to you.

GONZALES: Yeah. When I’m writing the poem, I don’t really write it with the intention of anybody else reading it ever. I’ve always just written it for me and it gives me a sense of release.

HODSON: I think that element is something I really love about the book. It’s like because you weren’t writing for publication. They have this sense of intimacy that now gets to be documented and published. That’s pretty rare, I would say.

GONZALES: That’s great to hear, definitely. As it gets closer and closer, it’s terrifying because it does feel like it is so personal. So many thoughts I had alone are now going to be out there for people to interpret as they wish. I would say I’m a private person, and I’ve controlled my emotions a lot of my life. I’m practicing release because I’m not going to be able to control this, which is terrifying, but also liberating in a way, and kind of really exciting.

HODSON: I love that. My book is very personal too and before it came out, I was just thinking, “What have I done? What is this impulse in me to self-destruct and say everything?” But I thought of the books that I loved and they did that. That’s the kind of book that I want to read, and now it’s the kind of book I want to publish. I think that’s a good thing to be confronting so that you can have this other identity as a writer.

GONZALES: It does feel weird to try to step into that a little bit. But it’s my dream. I’ve never really assumed that I would ever write a book, and now here we are. 

HODSON: There’s a poem in here that you wrote when you were seven. 

GONZALES: I remember writing that poem, and it’s very sad, actually. I remember my teacher read it and was like, “Oh, okay.” And then all of a sudden we were having a whole meeting about this poem. They were like, “Are you good?” I was like, “No, I’m fine. That’s just how I feel.” I also used to write stories all the time when I was little.

HODSON: I had a really similar trajectory, too. I also had a meeting with my teacher about something disturbing I had written. At a very young age, I wrote a story that was so disturbing that the teacher was calling my mom like, “Is everything good?” My mom’s like, “She’s just like that. Don’t worry.” But I always thought of writing as a thing that wealthy people do. I didn’t understand how to be a scrappier writer the way that I am now. I imagined someone just writing all day long doing nothing else, and I thought, “How can you ever do that?” But I don’t think that’s how books get written anymore, personally. I don’t know anyone that does that.

GONZALES: I’m friends with writers now and none of them do that. It’s the opposite. 

HODSON: Does your work in fashion ever filter into your writing? 

GONZALES: I see it as quite separate. I feel like it’s two very different worlds and I have my foot in both. I love fashion, obviously. I love my job, but what I write about is never contingent on fashion at all. They don’t meet.

HODSON: Yeah. You and I and my editorial assistant, Katie Coleman, worked on curating these poems in a certain order. We cut certain poems, we ordered them, and then we changed them. What was that process like for you to start really conceptualizing this as a book?

GONZALES: I think it felt crazy at first because I also wasn’t aware of how many poems I had written. Some of the poems were written a few years before, so I was looking into past versions of me. But I absolutely love the way we ended up ordering them. It feels like a journey with myself. Like, okay, she started here and then her voice is getting a little bit stronger here, and at the end, she found the destination. 

HODSON: I think so, too. That was a hope of mine editorially to figure out where that journey started and ended. It was especially a journey to figure out where it would begin, which I enjoyed a lot. Have you continued writing since we handed it off to the printer?

GONZALES: Yeah, I’m definitely still writing all the time. I’m still on planes and in hotels and on trains. Those places naturally just bring this out of me. I have a lot of new work that I’ve been working on. And my intention actually has just remained the same, which I’m happy about.

HODSON: I love that. I think that feeling of authenticity really comes through. Otherwise the writer is so self-conscious about being read that that can filter in and ruin the work in some ways.

GONZALES: I was actually concerned about that. I was like, “Is this going to change how I write now?” I just have this vision of the seven-year-old in my brain that wrote that one poem. It helps go back to that place.

HODSON: Totally.

RAINBOW: One thing that just came up for me was thinking about those people in your life who did not know that you were a secret writer.

GONZALES: Yeah. I actually haven’t thought about how specific people are going to read this. I have friends that are like, “When does the book come out?” I’m like, “Don’t. It’s fine.” My boss was also like, “I can’t wait to read it.” He’s a grown man. I’m like, “Maybe give it to your daughter.”

HODSON: Yeah, I have the same exact experience with my book. I’m like, “Your way of supporting me would be to actually just pretend I haven’t written a book.”

GONZALES: Your support to not support it would be—

HODSON: They can’t understand.

GONZALES: Exactly. People are like, “When does it ship?” I’m like, “Ah, I hope it doesn’t.”

HODSON: It’s not too late. We can stop it. 

GONZALES: [Laughs] This was fun.