A brief note from GAL:
GAL was supposed to meet for Kia's interview and photoshoot on the day after the election: a day that was going to be covered in shattered glass. We'd be celebrating while working together on a project that cares deeply about what women have to say about themselves in connection to literature and the act of reading. Not what they say about their bodies, the contents of their makeup bags, or their clothing choices. GAL is here to help women connect with one another over books and ideas, not brands and looks.
Unfortunately, that day didn't turn out as we had hoped. We had to reschedule Kia's shoot because all three of us felt a form of devastation. GAL is run by two women who believe in the sanctity of first amendment rights, of respecting and appreciating diversity, and in equality. We want to be a publication that you turn to for inspiration and solace, that continues to honor and highlight the important role literature plays in women's inner and outer lives, and aid you in connecting to each other via books. GAL hopes you'll stick with us for the next four years. We'll be here.
- Payton Turner & Eliza Wexelman
Kia grew up on Long Island and currently lives in Bedstuy, New York. She is the lead singer of the band Revel in Dimes, a songwriter, and a bartender at East Village Goodnight Sonny. Kia fuels her creative energy by surrounding herself with works by classic American playwrights such as Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson along with Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, and Jack Kerouac. GAL was curious to know more about how reading and songwriting are linked in her world. Find that, and more, below.
Photography by Lauren Pisano
Girls at Library: How did you become a reader?
Kia Warren: My parents taught me how to read before I even started going to school. My dad was my biggest influence in reading, and also in helping me discover what impacted me or what I liked and why. Even artistically, he has guided me. He really helped me connect the dots through reading.
GAL: Did you and your father read together? Did he read you any specific books when you were growing up?
KW: No, he never read anything in particular to me. I do remember him making a big deal out of getting me a library card though and taking me to the library and saying “Be free!” to me.
I really did feel this sense of freedom at the library, you know what I mean? Being able to choose what I wanted to read and what to expose myself to. I don’t remember if it was a neighbor or a kid from camp, but one of the two introduced me to the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I was obsessed with that whole series. Ramona is so crazy and funny. I thought I was Ramona!
I love the main female characters in both From The Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler and the Ramona series. Two little girls with big senses of freedom and adventure who are kind of like, bossy. I could definitely identify with that! Even if I didn’t know it consciously at the time as a child, I did identify with that and it helped shape me.
GAL: What's the connection between being a musician and a reader?
KW: Storytelling and intention. When I sit down to write a song, the most important thing is how I feel while I’m writing. Not necessarily what I want to evoke, but what I really want to say. Part of my training in college was acting, and my teachers would tell us that every single line has to have intention behind it in order to be believable and to resonate, and I think the same is true with any kind of storytelling. Having a strong intention makes both performing and hearing music a more powerful and engaging experience.
When I’m performing something I want to be able to see it and feel it, and I think that comes from reading a lot. Especially from reading plays and my acting experience. I feel like you can tell the difference between someone who is just writing words rather than actually saying something authentic and genuine. I don't think you can get to that point without having read good work.
GAL: Are you a fan of any particular playwrights or plays?
KW: Edward Albee is one. I also love Suzan-Lori Parks and August Wilson. All the classic American playwrights. John Patrick Shanley.
GAL: What was your reaction to the news that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature?
KW: I loved it. I thought it was incredible. Knowing his body of work so well, and knowing how I feel about music being a healing art form, it thrilled me. I was really put off by people booing it, saying that there are so many other important authors out there who deserved to win such a prestigious award. But, you know, why not award it to a musician? It takes just as much, if not more effort, to put yourself out there so entirely the way musicians do. I thought he definitely deserved it. His response to it on the other hand left a little something to be desired. That’s pretty classic Dylan though.
GAL: What inspires your songs?
KW: I’m a big dreamer. A lot of inspiration actually come from dreams I've had. When I sleep I have such vivid dreams. Maybe that comes from just putting down a book before bed, I'm not exactly sure. I end up waking up the next day, and after thinking about what I’ve dreamt, I try to re-create the story and the way it made me feel on pen and paper.
GAL: Do you have any favorite books about music or musicians that you'd recommend to GAL readers?
KW: Patti Smith’s Just Kids is one of my favorite books ever. Reading about a musician and their process with the backdrop of the 60’s and 70’s is incredible. I couldn't put it down.
GAL: What books are you reading right now?
GAL: Who are you listening to right now?
KW: I’m listening to a lot of Solange. It’s a very difficult thing to express your feelings and have the result be so poignant. The album is right in the pocket from beginning to end. It’s not pushy: it doesn’t feel like she’s pushing an agenda. But it’s so necessary right now. She says things that need to be said. I've met her in person several times and I have to say she puts her money where her mouth is. She is who she is in those songs and isn't afraid to say what she's saying. I feel encouraged by her.
Otherwise, I don’t know, I must be stuck in a time warp. I mostly listen to a lot of sixties and seventies music. Tried and true stuff. Sade and Caetano Veloso.
GAL: Besides being a musician, you also work in hospitality. That's tough. You have to be a natural storyteller behind the bar and also a protector of your own personal narrative as well as an absorber of other people's narratives. How do you do it?
KW: It’s energy exchange. That’s all you’re really doing. When people get drunk they do tend to tell you personal things. You often see a side of humanity that you don’t usually see on the streets. It’s intimate, and gets to be so really quickly. My energy is so important to protect. I can’t just take on anybody’s problems or whatever they need to dump out. So I create boundaries. I have my stock stories and responses, so it’s not all of me pouring out all the time when somebody wants to hear my life story and chat about theirs.
GAL: How did you choose the name Revel in Dimes for your band?
KW: It’s so funny, I actually met the guys in the band after they had the name. I asked them what it meant, and my guitarist told me that once upon a time he was leaving a loud club and asking his friend if she wanted to share a cab with him. He was rubbing two dimes together and the friend asked him “What? You’re reveling in dimes? Well that’s good, man.” And he was like, I definitely didn’t say that but it's funny you said that. I like that you said that. It’s a message that says be happy with what you have. That’s the feeling behind the band.
GAL: Are you reveling in dimes right now?
KW: Well yeah (laughs) I am! I recently got back from a tour in Europe with the band and am happy with what I did.
GAL: When did you get back to New York from tour?
KW: Election day. I was thinking of extending the trip, but there was no way I was going to miss what we thought would be such a historical moment. My mind was completely…I didn’t even fathom that this result was a possibility. So the high of coming off tour, and then the low of the election outcome was horrible. I even went so far as to ask my sister who has kids if that's what postpartum feels like. She said yes, close, but maybe not quite as bad (laughs).
GAL: We’re devastated by the election. What should we read or do to feel better?
KW: Whatever anyone can do to educate themselves is key. It is such a comfort to go back to resources like Lorraine Hansberry and to the writing and speeches of civil rights leaders. It has happened before and hopefully one day it will stop happening, but with this election it’s sure to happen again. It behooves everyone to get in touch with who they are as people. There are so many people who have gone before us, who represent us, and enriching yourself with their knowledge is helpful. Taking solace in people who have experienced what we’re still experiencing makes it feel less desperate and isolating. It’s really important to do.
GAL: Please recommend 3 books and the reasons for your choices.
KW: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Across the board, even if you’re not specifically a writer or a painter, we’re all creative in some way. It speaks to that part of you. If you want to suss out what’s going on in your life and how you want to focus your energy and want to wake up your body – it's is the perfect book for that.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. There’s that saying “overnight success” and that book really debunks the whole myth behind it. It shows the reader what it takes to create a great product or for an artist to create great work and even the historical context behind both. It’s a wealth of information.
There’s a really beautiful book by Edwidge Danticat called Breath, Eyes, Memory. It’s about the connection between a mother and her daughter who moved from Haiti to America. It's emotionally gripping as well as culturally vivid. The intensity of the relationship between the mother and the daughter is what I think a lot of women have experienced with their own mothers. The main character uses her memory to escape the harshness of her reality. It’s one of those literary tools that I’m a sucker for. Check it out. The author is also Hatian-American and that’s cool too.