Author R. Eric Thomas on How Living in Philly Was “Life-Giving, Vibrant and Weird”

With his New York Times bestseller Here for It out in paperback this month, we talk to him about his preferred Krimpet, Wawas in space, and what that “R” stands for.

r. eric thomas

R. Eric Thomas, author of New York Times best-seller Here for It. Portrait by Kap2ure Photography, Photo-illustration by Jeff Manning

The “R” stands for … Robert. I used to tell people it stood for Romeo, which was a deranged choice. When I shortened Robert to “R” in high school, my principal told me, “There is a thin line between pretentious and interesting.” And I replied, “Well, I’m going to skirt that line.”

After living in Philly for 15 years … I moved with my husband, whom I met at the William Way Center. He’s a pastor and got a job at a church in Baltimore, where I grew up. But I found my voice in Philly and still make work in and about Philly, and half my family is in Over­brook. Everything I know about being civically engaged, artistically curious, and personally interesting is rooted in Philly.

My time in Philly was … creative, life-giving, vibrant and weird. I waited tables but ultimately ended up writing full-time — plays and my daily Elle humor column. I just left Elle, and now I’m writing for TV shows like Dickinson on Apple TV and Better Things on FX. But people can still read me in my weekly newsletter column.

I wanted to grow up to be … a child actor, even though I wasn’t good at acting.

A guilty pleasure in my life is … the jelly-filled Tastykake Krimpet.

The thing I miss most about Philly is … absolutely everything.

Baltimore is similar in that … it’s a boomerang city. People grow up, then leave to do something else, then come back.

One karaoke song I slay every time is … “Proud Mary.”

I spent most of the past year … in sweatpants.

This summer, I hope to … open-mouth-kiss everybody in a consensual manner. Short of that, come back to Philly and eat at Tavern on Camac. Sit inside any restaurant there. I’m really looking forward to sharing space with people again.

If you haven’t read Here for It yet, you should know it’s … a collection of my essays about growing up at the intersection of Blackness and weirdness and queerness in America. There’s lots of laughter through tears, to quote Dolly in Steel Magnolias.

People would be surprised to know that I am … really good at keeping a secret. I love to gossip, but if it’s a secret, I lock it up.

One question I wish interviewers would ask me but they never do is … which movies had an influence on me, and I would tell them Death Becomes Her and Clue, and then I would go on a 10-minute rant about Titanic, which I am obsessed with.

Social media … is like walking into a high-school lunchroom and realizing everybody is furious because the kitchen ran out of fish sticks and I’m just like, well, I packed a lunch. See ya later.

If they called me to go on one of those tourist space flights, I would … hang up the phone. What’s space got for me? It’s boring. There’s no space Wawa. No space Target. I’ll stay at home with my bath bomb and gravity and let those other people pee into a tube.

Published as “One of Us: R. Eric Thomas” in the May 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.