Andrew Weiner ’90: On Writing with Alicia Keys

Andrew Weiner ’90: On Writing with Alicia Keys
Dina ElBoghdady

Andrew Weiner '90 rediscovered comics when his bosses at MGM Studios asked him to help assess the viability of adapting the graphic novel, Ghost World, into a movie.

“Reading it was a bit of an epiphany,” Andrew said about the coming-of-age comic by Daniel Clowes, which became an Academy Award-nominated cult classic after the movie was released in 2001. “I had relegated graphic novels to stuff I read as a kid. But that story blew me away.”

Today, Andrew runs his own multimedia company in New York City after spending a portion of his early career working for film studios and production companies. He now focuses on creating graphic novels that can be translated into feature film and TV properties.

Here’s what Andrew had to say about the graphic novel he co-wrote in 2022 with Alicia Keys, Girl on Fire, named after the title track of the Grammy Award-winning artist’s fifth studio album.

Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys

How did you connect with Alicia Keys?

I met her producing partner at the time, Susan Lewis, at a party in New York. She thought it would be cool for me and Alicia to do a project together. From the inception, it was going to be a graphic novel. Eventually, we discussed what a collaboration might look like. I learned that Alicia is a very cause-driven person who is particularly interested in stories that empower people of color and young women and girls. But it took a while to land on an idea. I came up with one that resonated with Alicia on paper. That’s when I was finally introduced to her, and then we started speaking directly about the idea. Flash forward five years, and we did it.

As a White man writing about a young Black girl, how did you approach the project?

Early on, Susan would send me a lot of reading material–essays, articles, and books–to help make sure that the characters felt right and that the perspective was female. Alicia grew up in NYC; I live in Brooklyn, as did Susan. But none of us grew up in public housing. So I wasn’t relying on our understanding of that piece of the story. I interviewed four 15-year-old girls who live in New York City public housing to learn about their lives. They were college-track kids, like the central character, Lola, and they were extraordinary. I leaned on Alicia too. She was a great writing partner, who labored over the details and made sure the voices resonated with her. Also, the team was almost entirely female, including Brittney Williams, an amazing young illustrator who has made it in an industry that’s been heavily dominated by white guys. It took months to find an illustrator that Alicia wanted and that we all felt was a good choice creatively for the book.

A graphic novel is limited in space, so how does that affect the written dialogue?

A writer has to put a tremendous amount of care into dialogue and trim as much fat as possible for the most impact. The goal with the writing and the art is to pull in readers and make it as entertaining as possible. I want the readers to feel as if they’re living in the character’s world. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote a story in first grade at GDS about two roads that get tired of being roads and take off for their own adventures. Cars started crashing into each other, and the roads returned to being roads. I’ve been interested in creative writing ever since. [Former MS Teacher] Clay Roberson and [HS English teacher] John Burghardt really nourished that interest. GDS makes a cameo in a series I’m working on right now involving a field trip from the School to New York City.

Andrew Weiner ’90: On Writing with Alicia Keys