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Q&A with Crystal Smith Paul - Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

By Ceri Kearney

We are honoured to welcome Crystal Smith Paul to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? out on the 2nd of May 2023.

When Kitty Karr Tate, a White icon of the silver screen, dies and bequeaths her multimillion-dollar estate to the St. John sisters, three young, wealthy Black women, it prompts questions. Lots of questions.

A celebrity in her own right, Elise St. John would rather focus on sorting out Kitty’s affairs than deal with the press. But what she discovers in one of Kitty’s journals rocks her world harder than any other brewing scandal could—and between a cheating fiancé and the fallout from a controversial social media post, there are plenty.

The truth behind Kitty's ascent to stardom from her beginnings in the segregated South threatens to expose a web of unexpected family ties, debts owed, and debatable crimes that could, with one pull, unravel the all-American fabric of the St. John sisters and those closest to them.

As Elise digs deeper into Kitty's past, she must also turn the lens upon herself, confronting the gifts and burdens of her own choices and the power that the secrets of the dead hold over the living. Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? is a sprawling page-turner set against the backdrop of the Hollywood machine, an insightful and nuanced look at the inheritances of family, race, and gender—and the choices some women make to break free of them.

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

I would like to start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Did You Hear About Kitty Karr? and could not put it down. I found it really interesting following along with how characters handled their grief after the loss of Kitty. Why did you decide to demonstrate different forms of grief and development?

I appreciate that, thank you for reading! Death brings so many complications to the surface of the reality of the living. Grief is a very personal experience and manifests differently for everyone as we knowingly or unknowingly grapple with our own mortality by mourning a death. In Kitty Karr, it was essential to maintain the integrity of each character’s feelings and unresolved issues with Kitty. Demonstrating the stages of grief came naturally because of the characters’ backstories. Elise had a lot of guilt, followed by anger, and had a need to memorialize and honor Kitty. Sarah detached which was true to her public relationship with Kitty but later felt crushing regret. The characters who are Kitty’s age in the present narrative are no strangers to grief and death and for them, like Giovanni and Noele, the loss of Kitty was more of a time marker, the end of an era.

As the novel is multigenerational it allows for an insight into the lives of particularly black women both in the past and present day, why was it important to you to demonstrate both of these timelines and why did you choose to do it in this way?

I wanted to highlight how the past impacts the present. My life has been greatly impacted by the choices, limitations, and sacrifices of those who came before me. The emotional material that historically marginalized people, in this case, Black Americans, carry, shapes a person, impacts how they raise children, treat people, how they operate and move in the world. To me, looking back, and making those connections, is the only way to truly move forward.

Kitty Karr is a fabulous demonstration of the ‘American Dream’ as her ambition and sacrifice were key to her success. Why did you choose to demonstrate a woman’s journey to success in Hollywood?

Thank you. I wanted to make a point about gender inequality and Hollywood was the perfect vehicle to do so. In a place obsessed with youth and beauty, I made Kitty the epitome of beauty and talent purposely. Both qualities are tradable commodities and make Kitty a useful tool, ripe for possession. This point also crosses over onto the St. John women, but their experience shows the compounding effect of gender and race. Also, Kitty and Sarah both became famous because Nathan Tate, acting as the ultimate puppeteer, said so—this has also been a well-documented, common Hollywood occurrence. There was a trade and while Kitty got what she wanted; the fame led her right back to where she started—hiding out. This is what makes Elise wonder if the life that’s been somewhat handed to her is even worth it.

Throughout the novel, it is very clear that fame and family were key themes. What lead you to use these to display racism throughout time?

I used fame to display racism throughout time because while celebrities are assigned the highest degree of privilege, they are not exempt from the experiences of racism. All the “isms” still operate at such heights. Family was a key vehicle to display how the experience of racism and racial constructs affect the economic, mental and spiritual health of families and future generations.

Within the novel is there a character you feel you resonate with most? And if so why is this?

There isn’t a single character I relate to the most. I resonate with Kitty’s ambition, her ability to play “the long game” and her ambivalence about motherhood. I also relate to Elise’s caution about speaking her mind and her childhood experiences as well as some of Kitty’s in her struggle of being accepted.

During your experience of getting published did you come across any struggles due to being a Black female author? And if so, is there any advice you would give to upcoming authors which would be helpful in helping them overcome this?

No, thankfully. I’m sure I may not have been offered representation at times because the agent couldn’t relate or didn’t think the material would sell but overall, my path to publishing has been very lucky. I have a Black female literary agent and editor. I am extremely grateful for that. The advice I do have for upcoming authors is just don’t give up. There are many literary agents and many publishing houses and it is possible to find an agent and, ultimately, an editor who connects with your work, regardless of their race. That’s the beauty of the written word and of story- it fosters the connections that go far beyond our physical shells.

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Crystal Smith Paul has led an eclectic career as a writer, editor, and paralegal for the Department of Justice. She attended Spelman College, UCLA’s School of Film and Television, and received her Master’s in journalism from NYU. Her non-fiction writing has appeared in Salon, Jezebel, and the Huffington Post. She currently works in digital marketing for wellness and beauty brands, while spending her nights and weekends writing creatively and staying on top of pop culture. The author resides in Los Angeles.

Crystal's Instagram: @csmithpaul


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