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Five Things: Author Kayla Rae Whitaker On Impostor Syndrome, Pencils And Peanuts

Mark Bennington

I first learned about this week's guest, Kayla Rae Whitaker, from another Five Things guest, Silas House. I always ask my guests if they have any suggestions of people I should consider for the show, and Silas immediately said, "Kayla Rae Whitaker. She wrote a great book, and she just moved to Louisville from New York. I think you'd like her." A couple of days later, I received a copy of Kayla's novel, The Animators, on my desk at work — a beautiful coincidence.

The Animators is a gorgeous, heartfelt, funny, devastating story of two women, their friendship and their professional partnership as moviemakers. Part of the story that especially resonated with me was when the two main characters move to Louisville from New York City, and find they have an easier time making creative work here. I lived in New York for almost a decade and I can definitely say that my creative life has improved since moving to Louisville (after all, I get to make this podcast).

I was so delighted to get to talk with Kayla recently; we discussed how her life has changed since her novel was published, her life growing up in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, and how accepting her curly hair has been symbolic of a larger sense of self-acceptance.

On her struggle for self-confidence after her novel was published:
"I never thought that I would know impostor syndrome so intimately, and I never knew that other people felt this as intimately as I did. But it was like discovering a new side of my personality, some sort of wiring hiding in my brain that was actually not really positive. And to discover new things about yourself after 30, to have them be truths that are less than pleasant, it's not an easy experience."

Before she knew that "writer" was a job that she could aspire to doing:
"I read constantly, but the idea of being a writer was something that had the feel of 'I want to be a movie star,' 'I want to be a rock star,' this is something that real people don't do. I had never met any writers before."

On finally accepting her curly hair:
"For years and years, nobody knew what to do with curly hair. I would go to the beauty shop and they would say, 'Oh, just spray and scrunch, honey, just spray and scrunch.' I was told to get one of those — I believe it's a garden spritzer? You use it to spray tomato plants and whatnot, you get them at Walmart for a few dollars, I was told to basically drench my hair every morning and then take gel and scrunch to make curls. If I had been anywhere close to a lit cigarette, I would have gone up in flames."

Kayla Rae Whitaker will be a featured reader at the InKY Reading Series presented by Louisville Literary Arts, which is happening at The Bard's Town this Friday, December 7. More information here.

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