From Beauty Editor To Bestselling Novelist: Inside The World Of Author Tia Williams

If Tia Williams’ A Love Song for Ricki Wilde is an ode to Black artists, it’s at least partially informed by her experience as a creator herself. The novelist has never been a florist or a musician, like the couple in her latest book, but she’s most certainly an artist in her own right.

Williams has repeatedly imagined – and subsequently depicted – Black women as protagonists who are just as ordinary as they are extraordinary. Her readers might bury themselves in her tales of romance as a means of escaping their own lives, but they likely also see glimpses of themselves within the pages of each of her books.

A Love Song for Ricki Wilde, released earlier this year via Grand Central Publishing, follows a florist who has recently moved into an “enchanted” brownstone in Harlem from Atlanta. When she falls in love with a musician, the pair realizes their lives are intertwined in a mysterious way that dates back to the Harlem Renaissance.

Williams says she wanted to use the book to explore the idea of “Black Excellence” and what it means for artists today. “We had to call it out [our achievements] because our excellence for so long had been ignored and still is being erased. But, I do think Black excellence can become a prison because the idea of what is excellent can become very narrow,” she says. “This book is about Black artists and having the freedom to pursue Black art. I just wanted to investigate what Black excellence really means. Should we be redefining it? Is it a different definition based on who you are?”


Although she spent a few years in Germany, Tia Williams spent most of her childhood in Virginia and Maryland, surrounded by Black people who had various lived experiences. A career as a writer, she says, always felt within her grasp. “I always knew I could do it,” she tells me when we speak in early February, just days after the release of her latest book. While she released her first novel, The Accidental Diva, in 2004, she’s certainly been writing for more than 20 years. According to her, she wrote her first book when she was just seven years old. “It was called Peter and the Crystal Bunny, and there was an “About the Author” section. It [said] ‘Tia Williams, 7, is probably the youngest writer you’ve ever read.’”

In elementary school, Williams found herself reading magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Mademoiselle, determined to become a beauty editor and a novelist when she became an adult. She’s achieved both. In addition to her creative writing, she’s worked as a beauty editor for magazines such as Elle, Glamour, Lucky, and Essence. Most recently, she was the editorial director for Estèe Lauder.

Two of Williams’ novels have achieved noteworthy success in the past decade. The 2016 novel The Perfect Find was adapted into a film, which won the audience award for narrative feature at The Tribeca Film Festival before it was released on Netflix last year. Gabrielle Union stars in the film as Jenna Jones, a 40-year-old creative director who falls in love with her company’s 25-year-old videographer, Eric, following a bad breakup. Eric (portrayed by Keith Powers) also happens to be the son of Jenna’s boss/professional rival.

(L-R) Keith Powers and Gabrielle Union starring in the Netflix film, 'The Perfect Find.'

Courtesy of Netflix

Williams says she’d placed Gabrielle Union on a vision board when she was writing the book. “And I don’t even do vision boards,” she says. “My friend made me do one. I was having such a hard time writing.”

Recently, it was announced that Williams’ 2021 Seven Days in June – a New York Times bestseller and former pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club – would be adapted into a television series for Prime Video. Will Packer Media will produce the series, with Williams serving as an executive producer.

Still, the writer’s career hasn’t come without challenges. As an avid reader, Williams remembers being frustrated by how whitewashed literature was because of how much it juxtaposed with the world she grew up in. “I knew we were in all spaces,” she says. The few stories she did see about Black people tended to invoke common narratives about slavery or the civil rights era, which felt extremely limiting. Where were the stories about Black people who were living lives that were not centered around trauma and oppression, she wondered.

In the '90s, she fell in love with authors such as Terry McMillan, Omar Tyree, and Eric Jerome Dickey, only to be disappointed when publishing moved away from uplifting Black authors again in the early 2000s.

She learned for herself how difficult the publishing industry could be when she tried to find a publisher for The Perfect Find. “I went with a very, very small indie press. It was really more like self-publishing,” she says, adding that the book had been rejected by every major publisher. But, publishing this way proved to be extremely challenging, especially for someone with a disability. (Williams, like the protagonist in Seven Days in June, suffers from chronic migraines.)

Williams is hesitant to even reflect on this time in her life because of how traumatic it was. “It’s still really triggering to even talk about. It was a terrible, terrible time,” she says before letting a deep, long sigh. “It stays with me. It was horrible.”

“And I wanted to give up, but then there's this other part of me that…when you're a writer, you know when your work sucks and you know when it's good. I knew that this was good, and I just refused to, I couldn't let it go,” she continues. “I just poured everything into it. And I felt like just letting it go would be like a death. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true.”

Working in a creative industry can feel like always “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” but Williams has persisted and continued to follow her lifelong dreams.

Reflecting again on her latest book, the Brooklyn resident says A Love Song for Ricki Wilde was also inspired by her fascination with Harlem in the 1920s. “It was really fun to do research [and] to go up to Harlem and walk around and sort of get the vibe of the contemporary feel of the streets,” Williams says. “But, then, you'll be walking down some street and see an obscure little plaque that will say something like ‘Billie Holiday was discovered here, singing at 14 in 1928,’ or something. It feels like the past and the present are coexisting there in a really magical way. That helped inspire the story.”

In the days following our conversation, Williams will begin a book tour to promote the novel and connect with the readers who have supported her throughout the years. “A Love Song for Ricki Wilde," she says, is a “magical, modern fairytale.”

But it’s her latest offering to Black women who are so often ignored by the media and literary worlds. “I really write for Black women primarily. Anyone else who comes to the table, I’m thrilled,” she says. “But, first and foremost, I write my books, and especially this one, as a gift to us.”

Editor's note: Will Packer Media, the company that will adapt Tia Williams’ Seven Days in June into a Prime Video series, owns xoNecole.

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As they say, create the change you want to see in this world, besties. That’s why xoNecole linked up with Hyundai for the inaugural ItGirl 100 List, a celebration of 100 Genzennial women who aren’t afraid to pull up their own seats to the table. Across regions and industries, these women embody the essence of discovering self-value through purpose, honey! They're fierce, they’re ultra-creative, and we know they make their cities proud.


Even though it’s my life, sometimes I look at it and totally trip out over certain things.

For instance, even though I am aware that both Hebrew and African cultures put a lot of stock in the name of a child (because they believe it speaks to their purpose; so do I) and I know that my name is pretty much Hebrew for divine covenant, it’s still wild that in a couple of years, I will have been working with married couples for a whopping two decades — and boy, is it an honor when they will say something like, “Shellie, we’ve seen [professionally] multiple people and no one has been nearly as effective as you have been.”