Following Michael Brown from childhood to university, The Black Flamingo, the YA debut from Dean Atta, allows readers to join Michael on his journey as he comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen, navigates relationships, discovers his passions and finds his wings as a drag artist. Told in verse and accompanied by illustrations, The Black Flamingo is a story of realising the power in embracing your truest self.
Not only do we have five copies of The Black Flamingo to giveaway to five lucky winners but we also had the chance to talk with Dean Atta about his stunning debut novel, writing inspirations and why he thinks Billy Porter would really love The Black Flamingo.
What was your biggest inspiration in writing The Black Flamingo?
The inspiration for writing The Black Flamingo, was the appearance of a real black flamingo in April 2015 when I was visiting family in Cyprus. It immediately meant so much to me and felt like it was my spirit animal. I started writing poems about it and eventually a whole book emerged. I write about the black flamingo as a metaphor for standing out from the crowd and specifically about being black and queer.
The Black Flamingo is your first YA novel, what made you decide you wanted to write for a young adult audience?
When I was a teenager I don’t remember seeing any black queer stories in books or movies or on TV. The movie Kinky Boots came out when I was 20 but I didn’t see it until recently. But much like Kinky Boots, I wanted to write something that would represent an empowered black queer character in a positive and uplifting way, so that black queer teens could see themselves in a book and others could learn about this experience too. I think YA is a great genre for me to be writing in because YA readers are typically very open-minded and keen to learn.
What do you think it is about poetry and novels written in verse that is so attractive to a young adult audience?
I have been told by many young people that they find poetry and verse novels quick and easy to read. I guess these days we are used to reading short form writing such as tweets. A dense block of text can seem overwhelming to many, whereas a poem with lots of space around it might feel less intimidating and more intriguing. As someone who is dyslexic I found prose novels quite a chore to get through but poetry has always felt manageable and it gives me more immediate gratification.
How did you first get into poetry and do you have any advice for young adults looking to do the same?
I wrote poems to get my thoughts in order. I still use it for this reason sometimes, but now I am also a lot more aware of trying to convey an experience or message to a reader or audience. My only advice to those who write or want to write poetry is to make sure you are reading widely, if you’re only reading one or two poets work, your own writing is probably going to sound very similar to theirs. The more widely you read, the greater the likelihood of finding your own unique voice taking the best bits from everything you like, whether that’s themes, style, vocabulary or poetic techniques.
Not only is the content of The Black Flamingo stunning, so is the physical book itself. What was it like working with Anshika Khullar and seeing their illustrations alongside your story?
I’m super pleased with Anshika’s cover art and illustrations throughout the book, they have really managed to pull out some of the key images and motifs. I think it’s a beautiful book all round, I’m so grateful so much care has gone into making it so special. Anshika and I never worked together directly, once I delivered my text, the illustrations were decided by editor Polly Lyall-Grant and designer Alice Duggan, it was a real team effort.
If you could put a copy of The Black Flamingo into anyone’s hands, who would it be and why?
Billy Porter, the actor from the series Pose, would really love the book. I’m a big fan of his acting but also fashion moments on the red carpet wearing dresses and asserting that he is doing so as a man. I think it’s important to expand what’s possible for men to do and not let toxic masculinity restrict us.
There’s no doubt that The Black Flamingo will hugely touch many readers, how does it feel knowing it will likely provide many readers with a narrative and story they’ve not yet seen but desperately needed to?
It feels like I’ve answered a calling with the writing of The Black Flamingo. I hope there will be many more black queer stories published in the years to come. I hope people from all sorts of backgrounds will write the stories they feel need to be told and publishers will be searching for and championing these books.
What is one message you’d love for readers to take away from The Black Flamingo upon finishing it?
I hope the takeaway message is that a happy ending doesn’t have to be about achieving romantic love, fame or fortune, it can be about self-love, self-acceptance and taking small but significant steps towards becoming the person you want to be.
Desperate to read The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta? You’re in luck because we have five copies to give away! Simply follow the instructions in the tweet below to enter for your chance to win.
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