Catching up with the peripatetic journalist, author, and Vineyard regular, Sunny Hostin.
By Alexandra Bullen Coutts
Award-winning journalist, news analyst, attorney, and co-host of ABC’s roundtable talk show The View, Sunny Hostin has recently added a new title to her résumé: bestselling author. Summer on the Bluffs – the first in a three-book series of novels set in Black beachfront communities – takes place in Oak Bluffs, where she has spent a part of most summers for many years. We chatted recently over Zoom about her books, The View, and what is has meant to feel seen, throughout her life and on the Island that keeps pulling her back.
MVM: You’re an attorney, a news analyst, a journalist, and a talk show host. That’s a full plate. What made you want to write fiction?
Sunny Hostin: In my work as an analyst and for The View, I’m often covering complex social justice issues, and I have to read a lot. Briefs, opinions, legal documents; just last night I had to read the leaked Roe v. Wade draft opinion. These things are deep, sophisticated, and sometimes pretty dark. In my spare time, I’d rather read something light. I love beach reads. I also like to read things that reflect my own experience, as I think we all do.
I’d been thinking about the Toni Morrison quote: “If there’s a book you want to read, [but] it hasn’t been written yet, [then] you must write it.” And I thought, maybe I could do that.
In my mind it was going to be one book with three locations, but it turned into a three-book series featuring locations of Black excellence: Sag Harbor; Maryland’s Highland Beach, where Frederick Douglass vacationed; and, of course, Oak Bluffs.
MVM: You’ve also written a memoir: I Am These Truths. How was the experience of fiction writing different?
SH: For the memoir I had a rough outline in my head, obviously. It was my life; I knew where it was going.
This was different. I knew the Vineyard, of course, but I did find it difficult to make sure that the plot moved along quickly, and that I was showing and not telling.
At one point I started dreaming about my characters. That’s when my editor said, “You’re really a writer now.”
MVM: Summer on the Bluffs (William Morrow, 2021) sold 20,000 copies in its first week in print. Were you surprised by this success?
SH: I was surprised. I did think, well, if I wanted to read something like this, maybe others would too. But when I did an event last summer at the Tabernacle, it was packed. So many people were coming up to me saying, “I see myself in Ama, or I see myself in Billie…”
MVM: You’re currently working on the second book in the series, Summer on Sag Harbor (William Morrow, 2022), as well as a television adaptation of Summer on the Bluffs. How do you find time to write?
SH: Our taping schedule for The View is intense. We get a long list of topics to read about at night and have to go over them early in the morning. By 6 or 7 a.m. I’m off to the studio, and taping in the first part of the day. I’m an 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. writer, and then as much time as I can get, maybe 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., on the weekends.
MVM: Tell us a bit about your Island history. What’s your “Vineyard story”?
SH: I was around fifteen when I started coming to the Vineyard. I remember because it’s the age my daughter is now, and I remember the wonder. I came with a colleague of my father’s and hist family. Growing up in the Bronx, I wasn’t used to seeing “moneyed Black people,” frankly, and here were all these people going on a fairy tale journey on a boat with their cars and ending up on this fantasy island. I was in awe.
Later, as a college student, my friends and I would scrape together the money to rent a home. It’s the same group of friends we visit with today. We rent a house in East Chop with all of our families and spend a few weeks each summer.
MVM: What pulls you back here each year?
SH: I asked my son this recently. He’s nineteen and his birthday is in the summer. He must celebrate his birthday on the Island every year. It’s his happy place. I asked him why and he said it was because he just feels seen there.
MVM: The novel follows three women visiting their godmother in Oak Bluffs, each woman with her own secret and at her own crossroads. One character purchases a brass ring keepsake necklace at the Flying Horses “as a reminder to herself that in life, there are certain rings that only come your way once; if you hesitate, you’ll miss your chance. You must grab it and hold on for dear life.” Has your life had any brass ring moments?
SH: Yes, it was when I was auditioning for The View. Back then the producer was Bill Geddie. I’d been guest hosting for a bit, and I thought they were just letting me fill in, but at one point I realized I was in a rotation with three other Black women lawyers. One day, Bill came up to me and said, “Sunny, you gotta lean in.” Which I took to mean that I was doing okay, but it was time to seize the moment. I had to show everyone that I was the woman for that seat. I had to show Bill that he wouldn’t be making a mistake by hiring me. I grabbed that brass ring and I didn’t let go.
MVM: The View is celebrating it’s twenty-fifth year on air. What do you think has made the show such a lasting institution?
SH: Barbara Walters had a vision: she thought that if you had five women coming together from very different backgrounds who were passionate, unapologetic, and sharing their opinions in a fearless way without caring what people thought, it would make for good television. She was right!
Women really care about politics. We care about what’s happening in the world. We’re multifaceted and multilayered.
I think the show also works because it is multigenerational, and each one of us represents someone different in society.
It’s been a wonderful ride for me. People will often come up to me and say, “You spoke for me. I feel seen.”
Read this interview in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.