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Added: Monday 19th March, 2018

Dean Atta interviews Travis Alabanza

Guest Artistic Director, Dean Atta, interviews writer, performer and theatre maker, Travis Alabanza.

What is your poetic? 

I'd say my poetic is the last text you sent to your friend before you went to sleep, the saved iPhone note on your phone from last year, the long rant you spilled out drunk on the tube, the one you erased whilst writing and then tried to scribble over it again.

What was it like to self-publish your book and what advice do you have for those thinking of self-publishing? 

Self publishing didn't come via choice for me at first, the publisher I was looking for / working with wanted to edit a lot of key words out of my work. This reminded me of the ways in which marginilised bodies are censored throughout our career. Self publishing first gave me freedom. It allowed me freedom to write how and what I wanted and with my designer, Jessie Denny-Kaulbach, create something authentic. The experience was overwhelming, and that was partly due to the response the book received. I remember I was estimated at 400 sales in a week, and we completely blew that out the window in the first day of sales. It was incredible to feel like the work I had done to bring this book into life had that effect. I think it was the perfect decision for where I was at that time, now I'm much more ready to go into a published collection in a more traditional way, however self publishing at that point allowed me to keep the story authentic, the work close to my heart, and ultimately I believe created a more authentic experience for the reader. I think to a lot of queer folk, DIY self publishing is natural and more common. My advice would be: Get your advertisement down on point! I turned into a marketing girl, and although at sometimes cringeworthy, having a plan of how I would get the book out there, promote and publicize, paid off! I would also say: Do it! If you have a body of work that you feel needs to be seen, do not wait for someone else to recognise it, any form of publishing is valid.

What is the place of poetry in amongst the other art and performance you do? 

I think as of late I've been much more in theatre and live performance worlds, but poetry was always my first home. All my other work starts and stems from text first - and it is still the most archived part of my practice. Poetry is where I first accessed a stage, where I was first heard, it's where I built up my courage and continues to be where I place all my problems and successes. I write first and foremost. 

What has been the most challenging or rewarding piece of writing you have done and why? 

I came out to myself as trans in a poem when I was 16 and immediately tried to rip up the poem. That was scary, challenging, rewarding... and I've never really re-looked at that poem. Maybe I will after this?

What is your approach to facilitating workshops or holding spaces for discussion? 

My approach is always to be flexible. To mould yourself on how the room is, and what you think the room and people need. It is to remember you are not the only person with knowledge in the room, and that my job is to facilitate everyone else finding their expertise and knowledge. Discussion is a bit different, I try and find ways to allow folks who wouldn't normally talk more space to talk - sometimes my role is also to shut down conversation. I don't believe in facilitators that let any conversation happen, I believe it is our job to know when a conversation is making someone else unsafe, to be able to sense or judge, and to find creative ways to steer the conversation away, or halt it immediately, to keep everyone safe and comfortable. I use a lot of games and creative ways for people to speak and talk! Connecting visual with audio and vocals is a way that I enjoy discussions being interactive. I still get super nervous when I host or run a workshop, maybe far more than when I perform!

Why is it important to hold spaces exclusively for trans and non binary people? 

I think when the world actively shuts you out, punishes you for existing, makes it hard for you to be in your full - spaces away from that allow us to see who we can be, when we are not fighting off lots of the worlds aggression towards us. Exclusive rooms for marginilised groups is not about excluding others, it's more about including the fullness of ourselves.

You work a lot in America, what do you feel are the main differences for you working there and here in the UK? 

Ummmm, the audiences are DEFINITELY more vocal in the States. I find that I hear a lot more finger snapping, clicking and mmm's. Which is nice! But I also feel there is a lot more exposure to the kind of work and politic and dialogue I am talking about in the States, which is nice, because maybe it isn't the first black trans poet they've seen that month (or week!). On the flip side to that, in the UK, with far less of us touring etc, that creates a moment when I perform in a rural part of the UK, that for the one trans person in the room, that may be their first encounter with a trans artist that year. That creates a different and special type of bond. I'm just about to do a big US tour, so maybe I'll be able to answer that better after April!

Could you recommend some books that give you hope and joy and tell us why?

The Summer We Got Free - Mia Mckenzie, I recently re-read this and it is such a full book - of sadness, of joy, of everything. And the novel is so strong that it fills me with joy that it... exists?


Travis Alabanza is a writer, performer and theatre maker based in London. Previously the 2016/17 Artist in residence at the Tate, and noted by Dazed, MOBO, Out.Com and many as one of the most prominent emerging UK queer voices, in the last year Alabanza has performed and read extensively across the UK and internationally. Having their work in The Guardian, Time.Out, ID, Artsy, and performing in venues ranging from the Tate, Barbican, Roundhouse and Lyric Hamersmith Theatre. In 2017 they released their debut chapbook Before I step Outside (you love me) which is now in over 19 countries.  @travisalabanza 

Travis is running a creative writing workshop as part of this year's City Reads. Find more details about that here.