On Oct. 11 we hosted an INconversation featuring author Victor LaValle and ably moderated by Dr. Leah Milne, professor of multicultural literature at University of Indianapolis. We are grateful to the Center for Black Literature and Culture at the Indianapolis Public Library for hosting the gathering, to Scarlet Lane Brewing for the beer and Frontrunner Media for recording the talk. You can watch the talk here (coming soon) and see photos from the evening here.
As we imagined, the conversation was monstrously wide-ranging and engaging. Here are six things we learned:
1. Victor discovered his love of reading from supermarket books: Victor didn’t grow up in a bookish house so he had to find his reading materials at the grocery store. Among the limited choices—romance, thrillers and horror—he glommed onto the works of Steven King, Clive Barker and Shirley Jackson. A life-long passion was born.
2. It’s hard to shake the image of the big green monster, but if you’re designing a new Frankensteincreature from scratch, start with “Iggy Pop Moses.” Those were the imagesVictor gave to Destroyer illustrator Dietrich Smith, one of many vivid characterizations they brought to life.
3. Akai, the 12-year-old black boy at the center of Destroyer, is both a memorial and a symbol. Victor named Akai for Akai Gurley, a young black New Yorker who was shot and killed by police during the time Victor was writing Destroyer. Victor carefully depicted Akai as the face of innocence, because so many stories of young black men do not highlight their gentleness and sweetness.
4. Victor was moved by the themes of grief in Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein. It’s not surprising, given the deaths of Shelley’s loved ones, that she imagined a story of bringing someone across the threshold of death. When setting out to continue the story, Victor asked himself whose grief could be so powerful that it would cause a person to invent a new technology to bring someone back to life. The answer, embodied by Dr. Josephine Baker in Destroyer, a mother who has lost her son to police violence.
5. If you want to write something vivid, you might need to wrap yourself in chains. Among the many pieces of great advice for budding writers, Victor says you have to get away from the computer and go out and do the thing you’re trying to describe. Then you’ll capture the sounds, feelings and other sensory details of the experience. But you may just end up asking your wife to wrap you up in chains…for research, of course.
6. Victor is generous: Victor was incredibly generous with his time in Indianapolis—he visited Leah’s UIndy class; he hung out with a group of 12-14-year-old girls to talk about his work (the young women wondered why the monster was so ugly—he helped them understand that when you live in Antarctica and have been dead for 200+ years that’s what you get); he participated in an hour-long interview with No Limits on WFYI 90.1 (listen here); and conducted an interview with Terri Dee from 1310 The Light.
Visit our Twitter page for more quotes and observations from the night. As Victor mentioned to us during his visit, at least two of his previous works, The Changeling and The Ballad of Black Tom may be coming to TV soon. To keep up with Victor’s future creations, check out his website at victorlavalle.com.