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Ignyte Interview Series 2021: Dhonielle Clayton

The Ignyte Ember Award celebrates the unsung contributions of people in the speculative fiction community. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, Dhonielle Clayton has served the community as the COO of We Need Diverse Books and owner of Cake Literary, podcaster, and of course as an author. Her work has changed the shape of the field. We are honored Dhonielle is being nominated for her contributions to the genre and we’ve interviewed her here about her work.

You’re the literal epitome of Black Girl Magic! It seems you do everything. You’re the COO of We Need Diverse Books, the owner of Cake Literary, a brilliant author, and you co-host the Deadline City podcast. How do you juggle it all? Also, what future endeavors are you cooking up because I know there’s always more goodness with you?

When it’s listed all out like this, it looks like I don’t sleep. Well, it’s all fun chaos. I am a former teacher so I’m used to juggling small fries in a classroom and trying to make sure they all get what they need. I try my best to adhere to a laid out schedule and use a lot of techniques to keep me on top of things: timers, an electronic calendar in conjunction with a paper calendar, a fantastic assistant, etc. I think I’ve reached my maximum project amount, but I’m trying to focus on writing a brand new fantasy and that’s taking up all of my brain space at the moment and trying to expand my book club.

You helped found Black Girls With Magic and Books, which I am infinitely excited about. It’s an online community that comes with a ton of awesome stuff, including a book club, a retreat, and a nationwide tour for writers and readers that celebrates SFF and speculative books written by Black women and non-binary authors! You seriously rock for this! Can you talk a little bit more about what inspired you to form the community and what you hope fellow writers, readers, and magical Black women and non-binary individuals will get out of the community?

I created Black Girls With Magic and Books because I felt like Black women and nonbinary writers of SFF were overlooked when it came to awards, big book clubs, and lists of Black authors. I witnessed the devaluing of stories with magic and Blackness, and became frustrated by it. As the pandemic winds down (hopefully … please), I’m hoping that I can do all of the things I set out to do at its founding: retreats, workshops, book tours, and bookstore meetups. I want to help create community for readers who love SFF the way I do and those who also want to write it. I hope Black women and nonbinary writers will be able to get more resources and camaraderie from the group as it grows.

Okay, time to get a little deep. I know you’ve had the infuriating challenge in the past of some folks and reviewers critiquing your fantasy work, mainly The Belles, as not being “deep” enough, which we both know is code for not having enough Black pain or trauma visited on Black bodies. It’s enraging, and it’s complete nonsense. What would you say to authors who want to write books not weighed down with our racial trauma and who might be coming up against similar critiques? Also, can you speak to how detrimental such critiques are to the larger community, the body of literature featuring magical Black girls, and yourself as well as fellow Black writers? How do you think we can advocate for a shift?

My desire for Black writers is to be free to explore the topics they want to explore in their art and work, and for that work to be supported. I feel an immense pressure to always tackle tough topics in my work, especially related to race because the industry really loves those stories. It’s hard to feel like you don’t have to engage with those topics in your work, to push off the pressure. I’m hoping the industry can hold up and start to celebrate stories full of Black love, magic, and joy.

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