The BKBF Interview with Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Patsy.
Where is your favorite place to read?
I enjoy curling up on the couch with a good book in my living room, which gets a lot of sunlight. However, I’ve been traveling a lot lately and discovered how much I love to read on the plane! I’m able to tune out the world for longer periods of time while airborne and have finished books that were once on my ever growing TBR pile, like Heavy by Kiese Laymon, The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams, and The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Wang.
Tell us your best book-receiving experience.
I was an avid reader when I was a pre-teen, so my mother would come home from work with Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High novels. It felt like Christmas each time. I would inhale the newness of the books, running my fingers across the pages, refusing to put creases in them. I was shocked when I came to America and found out that people leave books on sidewalks to take for free! I discovered The God of Small Things, The Alchemist, and 1984 this way. I had considered it an abomination to leave books on street corners, but I remember grabbing every one of those titles as if I were in a contest and grabbing gifts.
What’s the best book about your hometown?
I’m from Vineyard Town, a working-class neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica. I’ve never read a book set there, but hopefully someone who actually lived there or is currently living there will write one! I certainly draw from elements of Vineyard Town in my works—Pennyfield in Patsy and River Bank in Here Comes the Sun—the community, the people, the vibe.
What’s the last book that had you reading past your bedtime?
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I couldn’t put it down. Though there were painful accounts of apartheid in South Africa and how it affected Trevor growing up, I couldn’t stop laughing out loud. Trevor Noah has the uncanny ability to seamlessly weave comedy and tragedy.
If you had the power to create your own fantasy BKBF panel – any writer or artist, dead or alive – who would you love to see discussing books?
I would certainly love to see Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Terry MacMillan, and Lorraine Hansberry discussing their works. They were writing at a time when not many writers of color made it to a mainstream audience—a time when the industry lacked diversity. They were telling stories of everyday people, particularly stories of black people, and in Lorde’s and Baldwin’s case, LGBTQ people. I would love to hear them all speak about their private and public journeys.
BONUS QUESTION: In honor of the 5th anniversary of Children’s Day, we’re asking everyone, What’s your favorite children’s book?
Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Pumpkin Belly and Other Stories by Jamaican author Tanya Batson-Savage. My young nephews love these books so much that they have me read the stories to them every time they stay over.
Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of the novels Patsy and Here Comes the Sun, which won the Lambda Literary Award, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award; the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award; the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize; and was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award. She is a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant. Vice included her in a round-up of immigrant authors “who are making American Literature great again.” Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Dennis-Benn is a Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University and lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.