Art Beat: Of Novels And Journalism
When she was a student at Western Michigan University, Anissa Gray dreamed of making a living as a creative writer. But she soon realized that journalism was a more practical alternative.
The Saint Joseph, Michigan, native is now an award-winning journalist at CNN. But when she needed a break from reporting and editing, Gray turned back to her youthful dream. Her debut novel, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, was published by Penguin Random House in 2019.
“Growing up, I was a kid who loved reading, loved writing stories,” Gray says. “But I also enjoyed journalism and watching the evening news, believe it or not. So I always knew I was going to be either a journalist or a novelist. As it happened, after graduate school, I actually found out I needed real money to live. That took me in the direction of journalism, which I absolutely love.”
At that point, Gray took a job as a reporter with Reuters in Manhattan, covering global financial news. From there, she went to CNN in Atlanta, working as a writer, editor, and producer. She received Emmy and duPont awards for contributions to the network’s coverage of major stories.
Twenty years into her journalism career, Gray decided to revisit her second career choice: as a novelist. In The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, she takes on eating disorders, incarceration, and family dysfunction by writing about the three daughters in the Butler family: Althea, Viola, and Lillian.
Initially, Gray says, working on the novel didn't go well.
“But I kept at it,” she says. “A lot of writing is rewriting, and the book eventually came together.”
The novel has since been named the Spring 2019 Barnes & Nobles Discover pick and one of Vogue’s "Best Books of 2019."
“When I first started to write, I was primarily interested in the middle sister, Viola, looking at it from the perspective of her having an eating disorder. A lot of that was drawn from my own personal experience of having been through treatment and understanding that world.”
When that felt too insular, dark, and narrow in scope, Gray says she broadened the storyline successfully to include other family perspectives and dynamics. The author finds that many readers respond to her character’s breaking open the stereotype of the rich, white girl who suffers from eating disorders, revealing that these kinds of disorders can affect both genders, all ages, and all races.
Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.