Sowmya Krishnamurthy Says the Flyest New Yorkers Live in Harlem
This is OPEN BOOK, a monthly column in which we ask debut authors about their reading and writing habits. Last month, we spoke James Frankie Thomas, whose debut novel Idlewild tells a dark and biting story of friendship among queer youth. For this month’s installment, we talked to Sowmya Krishnamurthy, the author of Fashion Killa, a historical retelling of the deep influence of hip-hop on contemporary high fashion. Krishnamurthy draws from archives, cultural commentaries, and oral histories to break down the impact of figures such Lil’ Kim and Cardi B, and get into just how Virgil Abloh’s creative direction of Louis Vuitton challenged pre-existing power structures. Just before Fashion Killa hit shelves this week, we asked the author to complete our questionnaire, in which she gets into the luxurious sensuality of hardcover books and declares Harlem to be the home of the flyest people in all of New York. “It’s a proven fact,” she says.
Where do you like to write?
Lounging in bed or on the couch with The Office in the background. Like many debut authors, I thought that the accouterments of writing would enhance the artistic process. I got a new desk and bought pens, highlighters and notecards with grandiose ideas of being organized and regimented with writing my book. That never happened.
When do you like to write?
I’m a night owl and my most creative time—when I’m truly in flow— is between 10pm and 4am. I can write for hours until the sun comes up and then go to sleep until noon.
What’s the first thing you did after you turned in a draft of your book?
I was delirious after turning in the first draft. My eyes burned from lack of sleep, my wrists were numb and tingly. I wanted to cry with relief and pass out at the same time. The only way I knew how to deal was ordering a late night cheeseburger with tater tots and a really large cookie.
What music, if any, did you listen to while writing?
90s/‘00s hip-hop and r&b is my happy place. My playlist is a snuggly blanket of Jay-Z, Donell Jones, Dipset, Jodeci and D’Angelo.
Tell us about three to five books you read while writing your own, and why?
Fashion Killa is the first definitive hip-hop fashion anthology so I didn’t have any blueprint to guide me. I started with tangential books like Dapper Dan’s Made In Harlem, Robin Givhan’s The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History and Dana Thomas’ Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.
Tell us about a formative early reading experience.
Do you remember BOOK IT!? It was a campaign in elementary school that rewarded reading with Pizza Hut coupons. Genius. Whenever I pick up a book, I can still taste that melty personal pan pizza and ice cold Dr. Pepper.
The last book you loved, and why?
I’ve been listening to Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act as an audiobook. I have so much respect for Rick as a hip-hop head and his voice is incredibly relaxing. Put it on at night and drift away into dreams of creative genius.
The last book that disappointed you, and why?
Pineapple Street was so overhyped. Yeah, I said it. I understand the appeal of rich people doing awful things, but the plot was simplistic and the characters lacked any depth or pathos. However, after seeing the critical and commercial success that book got over everyone else, I seriously contemplated pivoting into fiction. Clearly, I’m hustling backwards.
Hardcover or paperback? Why?
Hardcover. There’s something so primal and sensual about touching a hardcover book. It’s truly a luxury.
A book you think should be in the canon, but isn’t:
Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion should be in the canon.
A book you think shouldn’t be in the canon, but is:
I wish The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene was not in the hip-hop canon. So many lives have been ruined trying to be Machiavellian and “playing chess instead of checkers,” when it usually isn’t that serious.
What’s your all-time favorite Lil’ Kim’ look?
I loved Lil’ Kim’s look in the “No Time” music video with Puff Daddy. She’s the epitome of deliciously chic and sultry. And her skin gleams off the screen.
Where’s the best street style in New York?
The flyest people come from Harlem. It’s a proven fact.
What’s your favorite bookstore(s)?
I love Rizzoli. It’s always a stop when I’m in Flatiron. The bookstore feels like a luxury experience. I can’t wait to see my book in there.
What do you look for in a reading experience?
I love a book that makes me feel something after the story is over. It can be anything. Anger, happiness, confusion. Give me something to hold on to after the last page.
How do you arrange your bookshelf?
Right now, my books are divided between three smaller shelves. They’re mostly nonfiction music and fashion books (I give my fiction books to my Mom or donate them to the library after I’m done). Of course, Fashion Killa is by my bed, front and center. I believe in getting high on your own supply.