The Only One Who Can: Interview with Dawn Robinson
I’m proud to present this Pride-season interview with one of my very favorite queer writers, Dawn Robinson. A Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow, Dawn lives, works, and writes in Oakland, California and writes sexy, funny, satisfying stories about queer life. In this interview, we talked about love, Liz Gilbert, and putting your work out there.
Kristy Lin Billuni: Tell me about identifying as a writer.
Dawn Robinson: I've always been a writer, and identify as that, completely, because I've had to develop my very own personal standards about how that's defined, as I go along. Writerly indulgences for me include reading great writers, attending retreats when I can, and especially giving myself the gift of time. Percolating my ideas.
KLB: What are you working on now?
DR: I'm in the process of completing a collection of short stories called Lost and Found. It's super important for me to gather some of the best work I've done over a variety of years and make it available to everyone.
KLB: Lost and found, as a concept is so common, it’s downright mainstream. How are you queering it?
DR: As queers, we tend to experience a higher-than-usual number of endings: move-outs, break-ups, firings, family squabbles, and the like. That kind of repetitive loss means that sometimes your favorite sweatshirt, an apartment, or your heart, or a cat who made you her special human get left behind in a hurt and a hurry.
KLB: And what gets found?
DR: As a writer, I think that we also are gifted with a similar, if not always obvious occurrence of found objects: new loves, dog smiles, cute shoes, stories, poems, drawings that have sprung from some of that loss. To me, the finding is just as deep and riven as the losing. I wanted to explore that seesaw of lost and found in this collection.
KLB: I love how you make that both personal and universal at once. That’s my favorite kind of writing because I think it can be hard to put it out there.
DR: Yes. This is a love thing: my creative voice being heard, particularly because that voice is the voice of a certain age of non-white, non-blond, non-straight, gender non-conforming realness. I'm putting my story, my words out there now. I'm the only one who can.
KLB: In that way, it’s an act of generosity to share your writing with your community.
DR: People approach me after I read and say, "If I could buy this on my phone right now, I would," or "I need your book on my nightstand." I realized that there was no need to wait/prevaricate/panic. This is for all of us: the creatives.
KLB: What’s the best thing you’ve done for your writer self lately?
DR: I wasn't getting as much work done when I drank, so I stopped drinking, mainly to see if my muse wanted to come out to play without the booze. Turns out, they did, they do.
KLB: Tell me about your process.
DR: My process is super simple and not highly structured. I throw back the covers and race over to the computer some mornings. Other days I might be scribbling in a notebook where the last entry is over a year old. What has become incredibly clear to me is that my process is not the key thing. The key that unlocks my flow is knowing that my voice must be heard, that my many stories can only be told if I share them.
KLB: Do you have writing partners or a writing group?
DR: Other writers inspire me, but the idea of a kind and supportive, queer, multi-racial writing group, is for me, still a treasured fantasy.
KLB: Who’s inspiring you now?
DR: J.P. Howard. Absolutely. She is the founder of Women Writers in Bloom in NYC, and she has a new book of poems out called Say/Mirror that's garnered a Lammy nomination. She is devoted to her work and her family in a way that I deeply admire, and she is SO prolific in every corner of her life. I wish I could have half of her energy and skill!
KLB: This is my favorite interview question, and it’s especially exciting with you, Dawn, because I think just about everything you do is sexy. I always ask writers, how is writing like sex for you?
DR: Aw, shucks! Thanks, Sexy G!! Liz Gilbert says you have to sneak away to meet your creativity as if it's your secret lover. And I love to get showered and slap on a little cologne, maybe even get dressed up in a shirt and tie, to go make out with and get felt up by my creativity. Gilbert's right. When my creativity lover calls and says, "Meet me at the corner bar," or "How about a walk on the beach?" I’m gonna primp and fluff and make room in my schedule because even 15 minutes alone with them puts a smile on my face for days! My wife can tell when I’ve been with my creativity, too. She’s come into the house, taken one look at me and said, “You’ve been doing it again, haven’t you?” Yep, I’ve been writing.
I love to talk to writers like Dawn Robinson about the process of writing. Follow Dawn on Twitter and learn more about The LAMMYs and the Lambda Literary Fellowship and Retreat. To meet more writers in social media, follow me, The Sexy Grammarian, on Facebook or Twitter. Yearning to jump into the writer’s life yourself? My free ebook, Arouse Your Writer Self, will get you going. Want more? Private sessions with me are more affordable than you think, and the first one’s free.