Sunny Hostin’s New Novel Is “A Love Letter” To Her Best Friend

The View co-host’s sequel to Summer on the Bluffs takes place in Sag Harbor’s historically Black beachfront community.

by Paulina Jayne Isaac
Sunny Hostin with her new book, 'Summer on Sag Harbour.'
Courtesy of William Morrow/Jeff Lipsky

Sunny Hostin writes the books she wants to read, but can’t find at a bookstore. “I felt that there was this space of books that were light and interesting historical fiction beach reads,” The View co-host tells Bustle of her inspiration for her Summer Beach series. “What was interesting to me was they were rarely centered on women of color… as if we didn’t go to the beach,” she adds, laughing.

Hostin thought she was alone in desiring more diverse beach reads — so when she published her first novel, Summer on the Bluffs, in 2020, she was caught off-guard by the overwhelming response. “It came as a surprise to me that the week the first book of the series dropped, during the pandemic, it sold more than 20,000 copies,” she says. Happily, that success wasn’t just a flash in the pan: Hostin’s newly published sequel, Summer on Sag Harbor, also rocketed onto the New York Times bestseller list.

The second book follows character Olivia Jones after she moves from New York City to Sag Harbor, a historically Black beachfront community in the Hamptons where a close-knit community of Black elites have vacationed since the 1930s. Olivia is still mourning the loss of those she considered family, so she finds solace in forging new connections — including one with her sexy new neighbor, Garrett. But as she further ingratiates herself into this new community, she also unearths difficult truths about herself.

Below, Hostin discusses the importance of preserving historically Black beach towns, the effects of colorism in America, and the plans for a Summer on the Bluffs TV show.

In April, Judy Blume and Sunny Hostin appeared together on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.Charles Sykes/Bravo via Getty Images

Congratulations on Summer on Sag Harbor’s success! How does it feel to continue your book series?

It’s been scary. [Laughs.] To have to follow up Summer on the Bluffs was scary. There was such a wonderful response to it. I got a little bit of writer’s block because I felt like I couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle twice.

You and your family summer in Sag Harbor, right?

We summer on Martha’s Vineyard, Sag Harbor, and Highland Beach. There aren’t many remaining historically Black beach communities. Black people weren’t allowed to buy beachfront property. I wanted to write what I knew because I knew these communities existed, but I also wanted other people to know about them. People love beach reads. If you can also throw a little history in there and a little aspiration, I think it makes it even better.

It’s rare to have a book that teaches and highlights that level of Black excellence. Why do you think that a lot of books and movies usually like to focus on Black trauma instead of Black joy?

People don’t want to talk about slavery. They don’t want to talk about Jim Crow. They don’t want to talk about Malcolm X being assassinated for his views. They don’t want to necessarily talk about James Baldwin, who I think was one of the most prolific and insightful thinkers that our country has ever had. People don’t want to — or I should say the white community doesn’t want to talk about it.

Black authors decided we are going to talk about it. We’re going to write so that we have our history and so our children know what happened to us. There was trauma, but out of that trauma came incredible courage and incredible resilience. Let’s write about that too. Let’s write about the fact that Black folks got together in Sag Harbor — civil servants, nurses, teachers, doctors, and lawyers — to pool their money together to order siding and roof shingles from Sears, Roebuck, & Co. catalog. They had building parties much like the Amish did to build homes on what was considered a less desirable area of Sag Harbor because it was more of a whaling community. It wasn’t on the ocean; it was on the bay.

I think it’s such a beautiful story of community and of Black power and Black excellence. Where there was trauma, we still found joy and community against all odds.

Who were you writing to when you began writing the series?

Black people were my audience. There was also a part of me that wanted white women to read it. I have a significant number of white readers. I just did a book event actually in Connecticut, and I was so thrilled when it was predominantly white. These women said, “Oh, my goodness. I loved your book so much. I love the relationships because [the character] Ama’s best friend is a white woman, and they teach each other about their experiences.” While we may have different lived experiences, there are a lot of similarities when you’re a woman in this country. … And men, believe it or not, also like the book.

Colorism affects Olivia’s self-esteem, which is a big part of the book. Have you witnessed colorism in your personal or professional life?

This was a love letter to my best friend, Kathy. We’ve been friends since I think we were 16. She looks like Naomi Campbell, and I look like me. When we went out together in college, all the guys approached me. It is something I didn’t notice at the time. I found it interesting because it’s almost as if they didn’t see what I was looking at. This woman has hair down to her butt. She’s exotic. She’s quite stunning. She’s fun, and she’s a great dancer. I asked her one time about it and she said, “Well, that’s because I’m standing next to you.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” She told me, “Light skin’s always going to be in. The closer you are to white, the more attractive you are in this country.”

Being someone who is biracial and whose mother is a white woman — for all intents and purposes, she just raised me that Black was beautiful. I didn’t have that experience of feeling like my skin color was not beautiful. I know that [Kathy] did, and I wrote Olivia for her because it’s something that we talk about to this day. What’s maddening is it’s not just the white community. It’s also a problem in the Black community because my beauty is seen as more acceptable in this country. I wanted to explore that. On my book tours, women tell me that “Olivia makes me feel seen.” I get asked how as a light-skinned woman, I was able to capture that. I wrote it because I lived it with my best friend.

Why do you think it’s important to have women of color as romantic leads in pop culture?

Because we’re beautiful. [Laughs.] We live romantic lives. I’ve been married for 25 years. I've been in a 25-year beautiful romance. It’s a shame that it’s not reflected more. It’s gotten better, but it’s just not reflected.

I was speaking to Viola Davis about that scene in How to Get Away With Murder when she took her wig off and how people were gasping. [Laughs.] That can be our lived experience too, right? Show us in all of our dimensions and part of that is romance. I love that I’m seeing it more, but I;m not seeing it enough.

How do you think we start to fix that lack of representation?

Everybody has a story in them. I say this often and people are like, “Yeah, well you were able to get your book on the shelves because you’re on The View.” But there are a lot of authors who aren’t on The View. [Laughs.] Terry McMillan is one example. I think we need to write more. I have my own production company now, and I produce content for Black and brown communities and the LGBTQ+ community. I produce what I want to see. I think that’s how you fix it. You may not even get a foot in the door. You may have to kick the door open, but we need to make our own content and we also need people that are in the room that can green-light projects.

What are your plans for the third book?

I’ve got about 150 pages. I have them with me right now. [Laughs.] It’s set in Highland Beach. I’m a little nervous because Highland Beach is a different type of community. It’s a much smaller community. It’s what you call a hidden gem. It’s where Frederick Douglass had his summer home, if you can believe that. I think a lot of people are surprised that he would summer there. Some of his descendants are still there. There aren’t real hotels there, so you find out about it because you hear about it.

I’m actually heading there this Friday to meet with two octogenarians who have read my first two books and found out that I was writing about their beloved Highland Beach. They want to meet with me to make sure I get it right. [Laughs.] I’m happy for the invitation. It’s always important to me to get the blessing of the elders in the community and to get the real story of the community. I should be done in September with this book so that you all can enjoy it next summer.

What are the plans for the Summer on the Bluffs TV show?

Octavia Spencer is my producing partner and has graciously agreed to also star in it. We have our showrunner, Elizabeth Hunter. You'll know her from Jumping the Broom, which she wrote, and also The Fighting Temptations. She’s of Martha’s Vineyard. She summers there. She understands the world. It was a blessing to find her. We started writing the pilot and because of the writer’s strike, her pen is down and I fully support her in that; I fully support all of the writers. So, we’re on hold right now. I can’t tell you who bought it, but it will be streaming.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.