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Tayari Jones was a successful novelist after her first three books. And she learned it was going to be a bestseller before the book even came out. She was in Las Vegas on a fellowship…. TJ: So, I was driving and I got a call and it was a blocked call. So I say hello, and she said hi this is Oprah.
Just like that. And so I put on my hazard lights and I pulled over. Yes thank you. TJ: I am of a generation where there are not very many um life mentors who have similar situations. Both her parents were academics—her dad was a political scientist, and her mother was an economist. TJ: Um, for example, when I was a little girl there was a child that I adored. She was so pretty and she had such nice clothes and she finally wanted to be my friend and she invited me to the zoo, and her mother came to pick us up and we were in the car and her mother needed to get some gas, and she stopped at a gas station called Gulf.
TJ: And I just imagined that that money was immediately going to purchase weapons for the apartheid government and she had to call my parents to come and pick me up, and Daddy came to pick me and he picked me up and I was hugging him around the neck and I was just crying, and he said I am so proud of you.
And that little girl never spoke to me again. I would like to point that out. There was no secondary invitation to go to the zoo. That was not the only time Tayari felt out of place growing up. She was always the youngest in her class—she graduated high school at TJ: I had not at all thought about what it would mean to be in an all-female space. When Tayari graduated from Spelman, she decided to follow her parents into academia, and enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Iowa.
It was the first time she had lived outside Atlanta in the U. It was not a rumor or a myth. It was real. That was really kind of a stunning thing. I only lasted there a couple of years, and I quit. I was so unhappy, and also it was a PhD program in literature, and I wanted to be a writer. AS: What was it like to decide to quit after being such a high performing student for your entire life. TJ: It was really hard. But I have a mentor um in Atlanta. I felt like my parents would be disappointed. I felt that if the only black women in the program quit they would say, well we tried to bring black women and they keep quitting—even though I was one person, you know there was this weight.