Getting into the Groove with Andrea Hairston

Getting into the Groove with Andrea Hairston

An interview with Andrea Hairston 

By Sarah Elliott


Would you like to dive into the night-riding, bear-meeting world of an award-winning fantasy writer? Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to meet the music-loving author of Archangels of Funk. Drop the needle to the record – let’s go!


Andrea Hairston is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. She is the author of Redwood and Wildfire, winner of the 2011 Otherwise Award and the Carl Brandon Kindred Award, and Mindscape, shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick and Otherwise Awards, and winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award. In her spare time, she is the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College. She has received the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts Distinguished Scholarship Award for outstanding contributions to the criticism of the fantastic. She bikes at night year-round, meeting bears, and the occasional shooting star.

Let’s see what people say about Andrea’s latest book…


Full of magical technology and theater kid drama, Archangels of Funk is an utter delight. Andrea Hairston welcomes us into a future of ambient queerness and eco-anarchy, where subversive heroes outsmart dystopia-chasing capitalists with their Funkadelic vibes. Reading this book gave me good dreams — and in these dark times, that is no small feat.” 

—Annalee Newitz, author of The Terraformers and Autonomous


“The old world has died and the new world has yet to be born; in that suspended space Hairston suggests that we make the new by performing it.  The result is a novel about art and play as visionary act — riotous, hilarious, joyous.  We save ourselves, as our heroine says at the start; and she shows how that can happen.” Kim Stanley Robinson


ARCHANGELS OF FUNK, an unforgettable story of music, resistance, and acceptance. Octavia Butler meets Neil Gaiman in this tale about running from your past, hiding from your future and protecting your present…” 


Sarah Elliott: That is certainly a description that catches the eye and stops you mid-scroll! Were you inspired by Gaiman and Butler? Who or what inspires your writing?

Andrea Hairston: Gaiman’s The Sandman is a favorite. I am a sucker for urban fantasy, for a mythic imagination in a contemporary setting, for history bleeding into the now, literally. I really appreciate the collision of the mundane and the magical, the heroic and the horrific, the eternal and transient, all beautifully rendered in Gaiman’s work. Butler is also a favorite—pick any novel or short story. She calls forth our humanity in the midst of holocaust, of an apocalypse wrought by our biology and culture. Despite our complicity in disaster and the enormity of what we may face, Butler never lets us forget that we are all agents of change, impossibility specialists. We can create a way out of no way. 

Reading Gaiman or Butler, you are changed and in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways. That’s why their books are banned. They both inspire (challenge, provoke) me, even if they were not the specific inspiration for my novel. 

Archangels of Funk is a love letter to my Western Massachusetts community of Co-Ops, artists, shop owners, teachers, artisans, farmers, engineers, health care workers, students, bicyclists, scientists, social service workers, and visionaries. They have met the enormous challenges of our world and found the magic to invent the next day and the day after that. They inspired the book.


SE: Was the idea for your latest book a bolt from the blue or more of a simmering slow burn?

AH: Both. I’ve been trying to write Archangels for a long time and then all of a sudden, I could see a way to tell the story I wanted. So the long simmer led to the flash of possibility.


SE: The book has a great title – did you have any alternative titles?

AH: No alternative titles. Finding a title is always central to finding the story I want to tell. The title is the bolt from the blue that guides my writing hand. The title is a piece of poetry, a puzzle that I have to solve in story form with characters and actions.


SE: Give us the elevator speech for your book Archangels of Funk. What kind of reader is this for?

AH: Archangels of Funk is the story of Cinnamon Jones, scientist, artiste, and hoodoo conjurer. The novel takes place in the Massachusetts of my mind in an alternate present after Water Wars have scrambled the world. Cinnamon, her Circus-Bots, and dogs (one cyborg) are part of a community of Motor Fairies, Wheel-Wizards, and Co-Ops trying to hold on to who they’ve been while coming up with the next world. Of course, not everybody has the same vision for the future–so who gets to tell the story of our lives? Old lovers and cutthroat tech rivals show up unexpectedly and Cinnamon has to reckon with epic fails, a messy past, and threats to her community as she forges a future that can hold us all.

SE: Who would you like to play the main character Cinnamon if there was a screen adaptation?

AH: Angela Bassett or Viola Davis would be a dream.


SE: There is a heavy music influence throughout the book including some of the references/quotes at the beginning of each section. What is your writing soundtrack? 

AH: Funk music: see Summer of Soul film for a great sampling. Singers like Nina Simone, Janelle Monáe, Chaka Khan, Rokia Traoré, Sweet Honey in the Rock. Folk groups like L’Ham de Foc, Al Andaluz Project, Faun. Kora music: Ballaké Sissoko, Toumani Diabaté

SE: Describe your general writing process. Are you a marathon writer or a sprinter? Plotter or pantser? What helps you to focus?

AH: Writing is an every day ritual, a rehearsal. I get up knowing I’m going to write, no matter what. I’m a jockaholic. I write on an elliptical trainer, with good music and a view of the trees. The words flow with the physical activity and the music. I also get on my bike and ride off into the trees, where I am lost also in my story world. Nature extends my mind and focuses my spirit. I plot and fly by the seat of my pants. Whatever I need to do in the moment.


SE: Please share the best piece of writing advice you have ever received.

AH: From my mother: If you’re feeling restless and you already understand what the teacher is explaining, don’t talk to the other children. They need to pay attention. Write me a story. Don’t give up until you get to the end.


SE: Any tips for world-building?

AH: Engage all the senses, make the setting part of the action. Make sure the setting is infused with the spirit, the cosmological truth of the world you’re building. Find the conflicts that are embodied in the institutions. The characters’ dilemmas are unique to their worlds. The range of characters and their desires, conflicts, joys, and struggles are the building blocks of the world.  


SE: Tell us about your earlier self-publishing experience. What motivated you to go ahead and publish that first book?

AH: I haven’t ever self-published. I was first published by Aqueduct Press—an independent press.

(NOTE TO READERS: There is another author named Andrea Hairston. Ensure you have the one you’re looking for!)


SE: What is your first series of books about and can readers expect something similar in Archangels of Funk?

AH: Two dear friends who read everything I write recently told me that all my books are really very different, but they share a sensibility, a spirit. Redwood and Wildfire and Will Do Magic For Small Change are in the same universe as Archangels of Funk. They are all standalone novels, but some of the characters appear in more than one novel. All my novels have human and non-human POV characters: trees, dogs, aliens, robots, a river.


SE: Do you aspire to awards, high sales or great reviews?

AH: I aspire to writing the best book possible. And while writing, I don’t really think about awards, high sales, or reviews. Of course, awards etc. are wonderful, but I wake up in the morning with ideas, an idea, a story that has to be written. I absolutely trust the muse. I don’t argue or bargain. I figure out how to tell the story that comes. As I write I aspire to be true to the story, so that readers can understand, appreciate, and enjoy the telling; so they can think on it, fight with it, and be changed. Getting the story right is always my focus.


SE: Who is your greatest cheerleader? Who is your greatest critic?

AH: Cheerleader: My family and friends.

Critic: Andrea the director who makes certain that Andrea the writer is telling the story she wants so that the audience can appreciate it. The director makes sure Andrea gets out of her own way.


SE: Angela Bassett has just received an honorary Oscar. She gave an impassioned speech about standing on the shoulders of those who came before and also leaving a legacy. Is this something you relate to, or do you have an alternative viewpoint?

AH: I’m with Angela! I am an Afrofuturist. I pour libation to the ancestors, to their wisdom, courage, and fortitude. I am the dream they had. Archangels of Funk is about honoring the ancestors as we create a bright future, as we become the ground on which others flourish.


SE: What would you say to your Freshman year English teacher now?

AH: Surprise! (She thought I was going to be a physicist/mathematician.)


SE: Any advice for aspiring authors out there?

AH: Don’t give up. No matter what, keep writing. Take every opportunity to write a good sentence. Find the story you have to tell. Let the story motivate you. We want your story.


SE: Where can we get to know you better, and more importantly buy a copy of Archangels of Funk?



Well, I’m inspired, intrigued and itching to dive right into Archangels of Funk. I Feel For You if you don’t join me!


You may also like...