Saturday, 9 November 2019

Q & A with Attica Locke

©Ayo Onatade
Attica Locke is the author of five award-wining novels.  Her first novel Black Water Rising (2009) was nominated and shortlisted for a number of awards including the Orange Prize, an Edgar Award, a NAACP Image, a Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Strand Magazine Critics Award to name a few.  The Cutting Season (2012) won the Ernest J Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright legacy Award, was long-listed for the Chautauqua Prize and was the honour book by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Pleasantville (2015) won the Harper Lee Prize for Fiction and was long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.  Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) won an Edgar Award, Anthony Award and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.

In addition, Attica Locke was a writer and a producer for the Fox drama Empire and more recently for Netflix’s When They See Us.  She recently received the Texas Writer of the Year Award  at the 2019 Texas Book Festival.

Q -
Your books have always had a political focus and many authors are now turning to crime fiction to explore the current political climate. Do you think this growing trend has come about because the general mood both in the UK and the US is that the crooks are in power? Do you feel crime fiction is the best lens to examine politics?

Attica -I don’t know about the “best lens,” but it’s a damn good one. Crime fiction takes the theoretical ideas and ideology behind politics and puts them into real character’s lives. And because crime fiction’s first responsibility is to be entertaining, and crime books are usually plot-heavy, writers can avoid being polemical, and readers can avoid feeling lectured to. It’s politics as a visceral experience.

Q -
You were screenwriter on one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed TV series of the year so far, When They See Us. Could you tell us about how that came about? As with your crime writing, are you more drawn to writing for shows that explore politics / injustice? 

Attica - Ava Duvernay knew of my books, and she knew that I also wrote for television, so she reached out to me. Our first meeting was by Skype. 

I don’t think it’s crime writing that draws me to stories of politics and injustices. It’s because I’m interested in politics and injustice that I was probably drawn to crime fiction in the first place. I grew up in a political family of former activists. My name is “Attica,” for goodness sake (named after the prison uprising at Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York). I grew up thinking about politics and issues of injustice all the time.

Q -
The response to When They See Us was phenomenal. Were you expecting it to be such a smash hit?

Attica - No. But I wasn’t really thinking about anything but telling those men’s stories. The idea of an audience having a positive or negative reaction seemed small compared to the responsibility we all felt to get the truth out – no matter what happened next.

Q -
Heaven, My Home is the second book in your Highway 59 trilogy. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from book three?  

Attica - Not giving anything away at all. It ends on another cliffhanger, like Bluebird, Bluebird. So there will definitely be a third book. I think four in all. A quartet.

Q -
And finally, what are you hopeful for?

Attica - Very little at the moment, sad to say. But it’s been an ugly few months—few years, really—in the United States. I suppose knowing that there will always be good books to read makes me happy and hopeful. And that my daughter might get into a good high school.

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke (Published by Profile Books) Out now
Nine-year-old Levi King knew he should have left for home sooner; instead he found himself all alone, adrift on the vastness of Caddo Lake. A sudden noise - and all goes dark. Ranger Darren Matthews is trying to emerge from another kind of darkness; his career and reputation lie in the hands of his mother, who's never exactly had his best interests at heart. Now she holds the key to his freedom, and she's not above a little blackmail to press her advantage. An unlikely possibility of rescue arrives in the form of a case down Highway 59, in a small lakeside town. With Texas already suffering a new wave of racial violence in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, a black man is a suspect in the possible murder of a missing white boy: the son of an Aryan Brotherhood captain. In deep country where the rule of law only goes so far, Darren has to battle centuries-old prejudices as he races to save not only Levi King, but himself.

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