Ready for some stories from Akilah Hughes’ timeline?
The breakout internet comic is preparing for the launch of her literary debut Obviously: Stories From My Timeline, a comedic book of essays which traces her development as a black girl from the South who grew up in the internet-age and created a community of her own. Touching on everything from friendship to sudden illness to raccoons overtaking her house, Hughes shares a new side of herself for fans while also introducing herself as a sharp new voice for new readers.
Hughes has exclusively shared the cover for Obviously with EW, which you can check out below. We also caught up with her on the inspiration behind the book, secrets to be found in the cover, and more. Read on, and pre-order Obviously ahead of its Sept. 24 release.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the inspiration behind this book? How did the collection come together?
AKILAH HUGHES: Anyone who follows me online knows that I have varied interests. I’ve never been able to stick to just one thing, whether that be living arrangements, ambitions, career goals, [or] hairstyles. And so I really wanted to make a book that could explain how a black kid from a small suburb in Kentucky ended up in Brooklyn performing comedy, and where my creative “voice” came from and how hard it is to categorize. I started writing the book in 2015 but fell very seriously ill in 2016, so there’s also a lot of self-reflection of what matters to me now versus when I was just beginning to find success.
What was it like writing about your upbringing, particularly about growing up in the South and your encounters with racism?
Woof, how much time do you have? Initially, it felt daunting, like, how can I condense a lifetime of hunches and feelings and experiences into a single book? And the answer is that I could spend the rest of my life writing about race because the ways I feel about it change and evolve, or become more or less painful. But it was certainly freeing. In particular, growing up in the South, we just didn’t talk about it. No one was willing to have an honest conversation about how they learned about race and racism and the things they believed. From [fourth to 12th] grade I was more often than not the only black kid in class, and I think that’s a very specific kind of experience that isn’t always explored in media. The desperation to see your experience reflected, and never even being allowed to talk about it without everyone around you getting defensive. It’s tough. I think those are the chapters that feel raw, and true but also the ones where I use comedy not to deflect from the pain, but to show how I used comedy to survive.
What kind of books and writers inspired you in your own process?
This feels like a trick question, because if I tell you who inspired me then you’ll either say my writing is copying them or it’s worse than theirs! But I’ll tell you anyway. I’ve read countless collections of essays and if I mustered even a little bit of the charm and candor in books by Samantha Irby, Zadie Smith, Sloane Crosley, David Sedaris, or Nora Ephron — if you squint and feel a twinge of that level of wit, and originality, then I think I did okay.
Did you feel a special kind of pressure with this book being internet-famous? How did your internet fame inform how you approached the book?
Well everyone has strong opinions about books by YouTubers, and I am not so naive as to think some people won’t only view this through that lens. That said, I feel really honored and qualified to talk about what being internet famous is really like. “Internet fame” is different because many people think of it as attainable fame. Like Diet Dr. Fame or something, but the truth is it’s a much more tumultuous and self-forged path. So it was important to me to map out how I even ended up online, but also really highlight the community that has supported me and gassed me up and very directly helped with my success. I think that’s a unique position that internet famous people are in. As far as who I think would get the most out of the book? Anybody who feels like they’ve been an outsider, but doesn’t want to feel victimized by that title anymore. Also, Cher.
What can you tease about the cover and what they hint at in the book?
I love the cover, and I can tell you that there are a few Easter eggs. In keeping with “Easter,” the rabbit on the cover is based on a real pet bunny readers will meet in the book, and the essay about the trophy will finally answer the first question I always get upon meeting someone new, “Oh! Like Akeelah and the Bee?”