Zibby interviews Emmy Award-winning co-host of The View and repeat MDHTTRB guest Sunny Hostin about Summer on Sag Harbor, a delicious summer read (and instant NYT bestseller!) about family, friendship, love, and the secrets that threaten to unravel it all for an exclusive community of African American elites vacationing in Sag Harbor. Sunny reveals that her books are love letters to the historically-Black towns she loves and wants to share with the world. She also talks about the importance of therapy and the shared trauma of the pandemic, both in relation to her characters and herself. Finally, she gives us a sneak peek of her next book!


Zibby Owens interviews Sunny Hostin, about her new book SUMMER ON SAG HARBOR.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sunny. Thanks so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” this time to discuss Summer on Sag Harbor.

Sunny Hostin: Thank you so much for inviting me back. I had such a good time the last time for the last book. I couldn’t wait to chat with you again.

Zibby: I was actually just watching the video of that from last time. I don’t know why. I hardly ever do when people come back. I was like, I wonder, what was I wearing that day? As you know, I was raving about your last book. We were talking about what’s the difference of a beach read — is that a bad thing or a good thing? You were saying how you try hard not to make books frivolous in any way. It always has to have a deeper meaning. This book, again, touches on so many important themes.

Sunny: Thank you for noticing. It’s interesting to me because when people see you with a book that has a book cover with a woman on the beach or walking on the beach or a couple walking on the beach, they immediately sort of think it’s vapid. I think that escapism is really important in today’s environment. We’ve gone through a tough couple of years. I know my family has, and families across America. I thought, let’s address some of the issues that come up almost every day. Also, we can do it in a fun way, in an elegant way, in an elevated way and still reach the issues that I like to reach. This book, of course, does the same thing in a sense that I’m celebrating a community that I don’t think a lot of people know about and also just continuing the journey of one of the characters and discussing things like gentrification and colorism and infidelity and different types of relationships that people have, marriages that are different, that kind of thing.

Zibby: Just a little of that. By the way, I did not even know that this piece of Sag Harbor was a thing. I’ve been going out there forever. I’m embarrassed, really embarrassed.

Sunny: I know. Isn’t that crazy? The thing is, it’s funny because — Joy Behar lives there. I often visit with her. I summer there every year, since my kids were — actually, I found the place when I was pregnant with my son, so it’s been twenty years. I visit Joy. She had never been on Havens Beach, which is a beach on Sag Harbor that’s in an exclusively African American — I should say, not exclusively, but historically African American community that was founded in the fifties. She was like, “I didn’t know this paradise existed.” She just had no idea, and she lives there. She lives there during the summer. She lives there basically every weekend. I think it was shocking to her that this enclave not only exists, but it’s existed since the fifties. That’s one of the things I wanted to highlight because I think when people think about the African American community, they’re not necessarily immediately thinking about wealth. They’re not necessarily thinking about beach. They’re not necessarily thinking about home ownership. It’s something that has been going on since the late 1800s, not in Sag Harbor, of course. In Summer on the Bluffs, I explored that Black folks were really only allowed to buy beachfront property in three places in the United States, unfortunately. They did own homes in Oak Bluffs. They do own homes in Sag Harbor. They do own homes in Highland Beach. I just thought it was really special to let people know, hey, this kind of paradise exists. It’s open to you. I’m hoping that the read is aspirational and sexy and fun, but informative too.

Zibby: You do say in the book that the residents are very pleased that nobody knows about it.

Sunny: They are. I think they’re going to be so upset with me. I actually called one of my — I call her one of my summer sisters. I gave thanks to them. I said, “You know, I wonder if people are going to be visiting more.” She was like, “Yeah, thanks.” What’s great is she’s also a realtor. She was like, “You know what? It would be wonderful if people learned about our community because it’s a really important community.” It’s pretty historic, in fact. Actually, the three communities in Sag Harbor that I highlight in the book are Sag Harbor Hills, Nineveh, and Azurest. They have just been, as a group, landmarked as historic sites. I just think it’s really cool that now this world is open to a bunch of people.

Zibby: It is very cool. Of course, your book is about the people, not just the place, but having a strong sense of place is wonderful and adds to the escapism and all of it mixed up. You start off with your main character finding a letter that is disturbing. Go into that. Explain if you can.

Sunny: I will tell you, in many ways — I always knew where the three books, the trilogy with HarperCollins, were going to be placed. These are my love letters, basically, to these places that I summer, these predominantly African American communities that no one has heard of, these beach communities and coastal communities. It’s very much a love letter to my book club readers. As you remember, my book came out during the pandemic, and so I couldn’t do the traditional book tour. I had to do it mostly virtually. I must have met with about fifty book clubs or more. I got a lot of feedback. Everyone kept on saying, I love Summer on the Bluffs, but what about Olivia? Why does she get the short end of the stick? That’s not fair. I was like, wow, I actually would never have imagined — I’m so thankful that people connected with the character so strongly and they wanted to know more about Olivia. That’s why this book is centered on Olivia. Apparently, there were unanswered questions that I hadn’t really considered. I hated that readers who loved the book felt that Olivia’s journey was interrupted and that she didn’t get her due. We find out in this book that she also goes on a journey. That journey is in Sag Harbor. She has connections in Sag Harbor that she didn’t know about but for her godfather, Omar, leaving her this letter. It takes her several years to even open the letter because she’s so consumed with her anger, like many of us are, and grief, really. It’s more grief than anything, and unanswered questions. He actually answers some of the questions in the letter.

Those were some of the questions of real readers. They were like, what about this? What about this? Why doesn’t she know more about this? I thought, this is great. It was a treasure trove for me. I explained back to my readers, this is what happens. It’s really about Olivia in Sag Harbor trying to summer there and trying to find more about her biological father’s estranged family. She thinks she’s on a journey to find out about her dad and that family. Really, she’s on a journey to find out about herself and what she needs and what she wants and what she deserves, importantly. I think a lot of women don’t ask for what we deserve and put our desires into this self-doubt box. I wanted to explore that. She learns so much about herself. You may have noticed in reading the book — thank you for reading it. I wanted to explore the issue of therapy. It’s something we talk about on The View all the time. Joy Behar is a huge proponent of therapy. Sara Haines is as well. I’ve never been in therapy. Although, I’m probably a lunatic and probably really need to do some therapy. It’s something that has been stigmatized so much in so many communities that I thought, I’m going to speak to a couple of therapists about their process, which was so much fun for me, and how they do what they do because they really are changing people’s lives. Now I have Olivia going to see a therapist, which is something that has also sort of been stigmatized in the African American community, especially for women. I thought, let’s bust that open. Let’s talk about that. Let’s just give a little peek into what that looks like so that people are more comfortable with the process. That’s why the therapy piece is in there, because of my cohosts, but also because I think it’s an important thing.

Zibby: Therapy is so essential. I used to be in therapy until I ran out of time, which is when I probably need it the most because then someone could tell me to stop doing what I’m doing. I’m like, no. I was just talking to another author who teaches. I was asking what she was seeing as themes in some of the essays of her students. She was saying so much anxiety and that as a teacher, she didn’t even know what to do with it all. What could she do?

Sunny: I think so much of it is that we’ve gone through a tough couple of years. We’ve had a pandemic where so many people are missing their grandparents or their parents and many loved ones at their Thanksgiving dinner. I know my in-laws both died from COVID. We miss them. Kids experience that firsthand, that kind of loss that no kid should really experience, that kind of tragedy. Also, there’s the school “no social contact” for a couple of years. Then when there was contact, it was masked contact. Especially the really little ones, they grew up looking at people with the mask on. Of course, there’s more anxiety now. Of course, there’s less socialization. I see it in my teenagers. They experienced grief and fear and not being able to connect. My son didn’t have a graduation. He didn’t have a prom, didn’t have a traditional graduation. The parents weren’t able to be there. Everybody was separated on an outdoor field. These are real things and real emotions. I’m glad so many of our young people, though, are willing to talk about it. You do hear that. At least this teacher heard about it. My kids are like, “I’m feeling very anxious today.” They will tell me. They have the language to express their feelings. They’re not afraid to express their feelings, this generation. That makes me happy. Olivia is a different generation, Olivia Jones. She doesn’t have the words. She doesn’t have the language to express what she’s really been going through, which is quite a lot, a lot of grief, a lot of anger, a lot of displacement, all of those things, and a lot of relationship issues and issues within herself.

Zibby: I’m sorry about your in-laws.

Sunny: Thank you so much.

Zibby: I lost my mother-in-law and my grandmother-in-law.

Sunny: I’m so sorry. It’s brutal.

Zibby: I don’t know what your experience was like, but it was horrific for us.

Sunny: It was horrific. It was brutal. You couldn’t be with them. For kids to see that firsthand, not only children and teenagers and young adults, I think we are all in a place where we could use an escape, some insight into how we’re feeling. That’s why part of the book is placed during the pandemic, because we all experienced that together. In many ways in this new book, you see that we came together as a community. We helped each other. We loved on each other. We can’t forget that part, which is why I wrote to it. There was a lot of love in New York, which was one of the places that was hit the hardest. It was remarkable to me because New Yorkers are typically a little hardnosed. They were clapping at a certain time every day to first responders. My husband, who was one of them, would be at the hospital and would hear these cheers for him and for his staff. That was pretty amazing. We adapted to it. Thank god for Zoom. We were having cocktail parties on Zoom. We still could connect with our neighbors. I go into that in the book. We lost so many of our elders and the history there. I wanted to explore that. I was all in my feelings as I was writing. I was like, I know people will connect with this experience because we lived it.

Zibby: Totally, oh, my gosh. It’s hard to even remember that it just happened. In the history books, if you’re like, oh, something that happened in 2000, and then it was 2023 —

Sunny: — Yeah, 1918 pandemic. It just happened to us. We actually lived it. Can you imagine that?

Zibby: Nobody is being nice in New York anymore, right?

Sunny: No. Things have changed a little bit, but I remember.

Zibby: A little dicey. The end of the trilogy, then, tell me about that book.

Sunny: I decided, as I mentioned, on the places. The third place that African Americans were allowed to buy beachfront property was Highland Beach, Maryland. It’s not too far from Annapolis. Frederick Douglass actually owned a summer home. It’s history that I learned about because my friend Erica owns a home there. There aren’t really hotels there. This is even a more exclusive community than Sag Harbor. I’ve been there many times. There’s a wonderful museum. You have the Frederick Douglass home there and his descendants living there. There are a lot of octogenarians that I actually interviewed just to get a feel of what it was like owning a home in this place that has such a storied history but is still very hidden, perhaps intentionally. I wanted to introduce, also, just new characters. I love historical fiction. That’s where the third place is. You’ll meet some new people. I’m about a hundred and fifty pages in. I’m hoping that people will respond to it in the way that they’ve responded so far to the first two books. I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by the lovely response. It’s been pretty cool.

Zibby: That’s awesome. It’s really exciting. Aside from the fact that nobody’s ever going to invite you to their house in a remote community again —

Sunny: — I know. I’m like, oh, my gosh.

Zibby: Aside from that, it must be fun.

Sunny: It’s so much fun. What I always explain to the people that I interview in preparation for the books — I’m a type-A personality, so I prepare a lot. Look, this is a piece of history that no one knows about. Let me write to it. Let me tell your story. I’ll be very respectful of it. I know with the vineyard, there were book tours. People had shirts that said Summer on the Bluffs. It opened up a world to so many people. I got so many emails on my website. I’m on Martha’s Vineyard for the first time, and everything you write about is real. I’m like, yeah. I actually went there again last summer, which I always do in August. The owner of C’est La Vie, that I write to in the book and write about, he’s like, “My sales went up a hundred percent. Thank you so much.” Donovan, who I write about, said, “Thank you so much. It’s done wonders for my business. We have people that are stopping by and telling us that they read about this paradise in your book. Can we take a picture?” I think the dread that a lot of communities have, “Oh, my gosh, this is not my little secret anymore,” is definitely displaced by, “Wow, these people will love this place as much as I do and respect this place. Now we have more friends.” I think that was the experience for at least the first one.

Zibby: I hope you know I was just kidding.

Sunny: I know, but there were real concerns. People were like, you’re writing about the vineyard? Wait a minute. The real places? What’s our August going to look like? I’m like, it’s just going to look like you made more friends. I think it’s so cool. I know when I read Larry Graham’s book, Our Kind of People, it really opened up a world to me. I was like, what? I knew about the sororities and fraternities because I’m a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha. I knew about The Links because I’m a member of The Links. I knew about many of the things in his book, but I didn’t know that Black folks were not allowed to buy, and I didn’t know that they did buy. There were just so many things that I learned. I thought, I may not do it in the way that Larry did, Lawrence Graham, which was really not fiction — he wrote the history down. I can combine the two and make it a little more easy to drink. That’s always my goal with a beach read.

Zibby: You know how they say when you’re giving directions, sometimes — this is a massive gender generalization from the past, but that women often need the story of the drive. “And then I passed this beautiful little house with a pink roof,” as opposed to, this, this, and this. I feel like it’s the same sometimes with history. I would so much rather read your book, feel like I know a place in a different way, and experience it than reading a history book about it, personally.

Sunny: Exactly. It just makes it fun and digestible. That’s my goal with all of my writing, to elevate it a little bit, to teach a little bit, not to be the professor, but to teach a little history, and also, a little romance. Joy says you always got to have sex. I’m like, I guess you do have to have sex. My books do have a little bit of that, as you know, but digestible and fun.

Zibby: When do you get everything done? What are some of your time management secrets here with being on TV and writing and publicizing the book and everything else you do?

Sunny: It’s a little crazy. I don’t sleep as much as I should. I probably get about five hours of sleep a night. My dear friend Sanjay Gupta said I’m taking years off my life. That’s probably true. I have insomnia, so I don’t sleep much. I happen to be a natural night owl. I really think there is something to this notion of circadian rhythms. I am my best at night. My husband is this early bird. He’s really good at five AM. I can’t see five AM.

Zibby: We have the same thing here. We’re on different clocks.

Sunny: I don’t like five AM. Even though I’m a morning talk show host, I’m not really a morning person. I’m kind of forced to be a morning person because of my career choices. I write at night because that’s when I tend to be most productive. My children are asleep. I know that they don’t need me. My husband is asleep because he’s an early riser, works out at five AM. I think it’s bizarre. The house is quiet. The dogs are sleeping. The chickens are nesting in their coop. I basically just go into my office and start writing. I have a cup of tea. I love to write in the winter because I have a fireplace behind me. I just write. Unfortunately for me, sometimes it’s two AM, and I’m like, oh, my god, I’ve got to do The View tomorrow. I got to go to bed. I rush to bed so I could get four hours of sleep or five hours of sleep. I write at night. That’s generally my process. On the weekends, my children have activities, especially my daughter now, who is in high school and a track athlete. If I’m not at a meet, I’m generally writing, trying to meet my deadlines. I haven’t missed any deadlines. I’ve been pretty lucky in that. I feel very productive late at night. It’s so quiet and peaceful. I can just get into my head. I need a lot of quiet to write. Some people can do a lot of things at the same time. I certainly can’t write that way. I don’t have the creative juices when I have distraction.

Zibby: I’m the same way, but I’m the morning type of person. This morning, I got up so early with my dog. I was like, okay, it’s five o’clock. The dog’s up. The kids are asleep. I could write. I could email. I could spend the two hours that I’ve been putting off these camp forms that have been due for — I’ve gotten six hundred emails. They’re due.

Sunny: Yes, that have been due or are due May 1st. The health form is due May 1st. I know.

Zibby: The waivers and the this, I’m like, why do they do this to us?

Sunny: I’m like, I’m going to get it done. I promise. Once I get my book done.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Sunny: My advice is that you should write what you know. This is Toni Morrison’s advice, but I took it seriously. If there’s a book you want to read but you can’t find it, then you should write it. I really think there are less authors because of the fear, certainly of rejection. I still fear, oh, my gosh, how is this book going to be received? Even though the first was a New York Times best-seller, which shocked the heck out of me, I’m still scared about how it will be received. I think that everyone has a story in them, different experiences. I want to read about those different experiences. I’m surprised more people don’t write fiction because some of us dream so vividly. There are so many jewels and gems there. My advice is to go for it, most importantly. If there is something that you want to read and it’s not out there, then that’s your story. You write to what you know, for sure.

Zibby: And marry someone who’s on a different circadian rhythm.

Sunny: Yes, then you can write in peace.

Zibby: Otherwise, you’ll never have time. Sunny, thank you so much. Thanks for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I have no doubt this will be a huge success as well. Congratulations.

Sunny: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Take care.

Sunny: Take care.

Zibby: Bye.



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