Black corporate attorney Ellice Littlejohn encounters rampant racism and sexism in Morris’s debut, All Her Little Secrets (Morrow, Nov.).
How did you come up with the plot?
There were a couple of things that inspired me. First, was my own lived experiences working in a toxic office that underestimated the value that women and people of color can bring to the workplace. Also, I once worked for an organization where company management considered its employees “family.” Someone in my department died unexpectedly. There was nothing sinister about the death, but I was mortified by how quickly everyone went back to normal after the person died. That incident stayed with me for a long time and served as the motivating idea for the theme of family that I explored in the book—specifically, who do we call family and why?
How did you approach fictionalizing your time as a corporate attorney?
It was important to me to make the office scenes as realistic as possible, so I relied on my knowledge of how in-house legal departments work, the demands on its employees, the budgetary constraints and liberties, as well as knowing where the “bodies can be buried,” so to speak. I tried to capture snippets of life we all experience when working in corporate spaces. I want the reader to feel like they too are working long days in the office or working in cramped spaces with little opportunity to move ahead.
Are there incidents in the book that mirror things you went through?
Ellice Littlejohn’s experiences are an amalgam of what many women experience in the workplace and in their everyday lives. That said, I’ve had my own encounters with people who underestimated me because of the color of my skin. Or the times I’ve been in a meeting and was dismissed for an idea I suggested that a man repeats verbatim five minutes later and is praised for. I’ve been racially profiled when I entered a store more times than I can count. I wanted to write about some of my experiences in a way that would make a reader stop and think about what it takes to be a Black woman in America.
What was the impact of winning Thrillerfest’s Best First Sentence contest?
That was the first time I was publicly recognized for my creative writing. It came at just the right time, too, at a point when I was unsure whether I could really write this book.