Welcome to another author interview for #LGBTQMonth! What progress are you making with your TBRs? What books are you loving – or not loving? Let me know in the comments!
For today’s interview, we have the amazing DEAN ATTA, author of hugely-loved The Black Flamingo! You can buy it from Book Depository here!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dean Atta was named as one of the most influential LGBT people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday. His debut poetry collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. His debut novel, The Black Flamingo, was awarded the 2020 Stonewall Book Award, and shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, YA Book Prize and Jhalak Prize. His writing dealing with themes of race, gender and sexuality has appeared on the BBC and Channel 4, and in his regular column for Attitude magazine.
ABOUT THE BLACK FLAMINGO
I masquerade in makeup and feathers and I am applauded.
A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.
Hi Dean! Thanks so much for being part of LGBTQMonth! What made you write The Black Flamingo in verse?
I’m most comfortable writing in verse. I’ve only ever had one prose story published and even that was interspersed with bits of poetry. I read novels in verse that I thought were such page-turners such as The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. If it wasn’t for these books I don’t know if I’d have attempted it but they were both so accessible with a clear narrative voice and I thought, ‘I can do this.’
Speaking of verse, for those aspiring writers who want to venture into the world of verse, what is your biggest piece of advice?
My biggest advice would be to read! Certainly the writers mentioned above, as well as Jason Reynolds and Sarah Crossan. A few LGBTQ+ writers I’d recommend are Nikita Gill, Travis Alabanza and Yrsa Daley-Ward.
Travis Alabanza is incredible! What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love this question! I like to read, listen to music, dance around the living room with my boyfriend, I love watching movies on our projector at home, I recently got a bicycle and my partner and I cycle together at least three times a week. I also enjoy yoga, meditation and I’m currently learning Greek on Duolingo.
Sounds like an ideal day to me! What was the experience like of recording the audiobook?
It’s like a live performance but without the audience reactions, so it’s hard to gauge if the lines are landing right. Luckily you have a director and a studio engineer to guide you. Every few pages they let you know what sounded good and what needs to be recorded again. I was really keen for there to be an audiobook for The Black Flamingo because I’m dyslexic and audiobooks have been essential for me, especially to read novels. I always like to read poetry and novels in verse on the page but I enjoy listening to prose novels.
That’s amazing! When you were writing The Black Flamingo, did you picture an audience for it or was it more for yourself?
It was definitely written for the teenagers of today. I think things have changed so much since I was a teenager and in 15-20 years time I imagine things will have changed quite drastically once again. I hope books like mine could be a part of that change towards wider acceptance and equality for LGBTQ+ people. When I was at school, Section 28 prohibited teachers and librarians from bringing LGBTQ+ books into schools, which meant my generation of LGBTQ+ teenagers hardly saw themselves in books.
Already I can see it doing so much good for the teenagers today, much like myself! Who are some of your favourite queer authors?
Even with some time to think about this one, I find favourites quite hard to decide upon but some queer books I’ve loved recently are Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian and Boy Queen by George Lester.
Two books I am so excited for! Michael becomes a fierce drag queen in The Black Flamingo. So speaking on the topic, do you watch Drag Race? If so, who’s your favourite queen?
This is another difficult one, I enjoyed Drag Race UK because it showed the kind of drag I’m more accustomed to. I really loved Baga Chipz for her comedy and I found it quite endearing how much she underestimated herself. On the flip-side, Divina De Campo’s confidence and professionalism was certainly something to respect. But ultimately The Vivienne’s runways were outstanding and her Donald Trump impression in Snatch Game was incredible, she definitely deserved the crown!
I adore everything about Divina too! How long did it take you to write The Black Flamingo?
It took about a year to write the novel but the initial idea came to me in April 2015 when I was in Cyprus and there was a sighting of a real black flamingo. I wrote several poems about the black flamingo back them but I didn’t start working on the novel until early 2018 when my agent secured me a book deal on the strength of those poems.
“Don’t come out because you think that society expects you to. Come out for yourself. Come out to yourself.” This is such a powerful line that resonated with so many readers. What is the significance of this line to you? How does it feel for it to be out in the world where anyone can connect to it?
Those lines were definitely advice to my younger self. The poem those lines come from is called “How to Come Out as Gay”. The poem is at the end of The Black Flamingo but it also appears at the end of an LGBTQ+ anthology called Proud, which was compiled by Juno Dawson and includes writers such as David Levithan, Simon James Green and Tanya Byrne. I loved being part of this anthology because it reminds me that I’m just one of many LGBTQ+ writers and we’re doing this work together!
I love it so much! Now finally—what’s next for Dean Atta?
All being well, another YA novel, a children’s picture book and an adult poetry collection.
Thank you so much for being part of #LGBTQMonth, Dean! We were delighted to have you!
The Black Flamingo is available everywhere and I urge you all to go order it—from your local indie bookstore if they have it, or anywhere else!