Chicago author Biodun Abudu's debut novel, Tales of My Skin is a book about one man's journey from Africa to the United States. This book confronts issues of sexual orientation, HIV and identity of teens in two different cultures that have more in common than meets the eye.
John J. Accrocco: Who do you hope to reach with this novel?
Biodun Abudu: Mainly, I hope this book reaches the LGBT community and the parents of any LGBT children or anyone who has questions about the LGBT lifestyle. It's a book for anyone who is looking for love and finding it in the wrong places. It's a book of advice for people in these situations.
JA: Tell me about your life, what is your story?
BA: I was born in Rhode Island, but a few years later I was relocated to Nigeria. My parents had a bad separation in the '90s and my mom thought it was best to protect me by taking me back to Nigeria. She felt the schooling was better there. I returned to the United States to pursue my dreams of working in fashion, which is considered inappropriate there. In Nigeria, to do my drag shows and costume designing and even to write this book would have been impossible. I found a school in Chicago where I had some family living and it felt like a good idea. I attended the International Academy of Design & Technology and finished with a B.A. in Fashion Merchandising.
JA: What prompted you to write this novel?
BA: It's a story that I think people need to hear. When adults look into teens' eyes, so often they don't see that they have stories to tell, stories that would frighten them. In my country, being gay is against the law, but there's this huge underground LGBT scene and people don't even know to protect themselves, that five minutes of pleasure could cost them their lives.
JA: What was the writing and publishing process like for you?
BA: It took me about two years to actually finish the book: about a year and a half to write it and then another six months of editing and finding a publisher.
I found my publisher [ Lalibra Books ] on a Facebook ad, believe it or not. It was this new company in California and I emailed their editor and told them about myself and my novel. I'm actually the first author aside from the editor. She loved it, and from there we began the editing and discussing the contracts. Privacy was something we had to concern ourselves with since a lot of the book is based on a few people I know.
JA: What kind of books does Lalibra usually publish?
BA: Well, it's mostly self-publishing, as I said I'm one of the first authors. I went with them because their prices were pretty reasonable and because they got back to me so soon. I could have waited around for an Indie publisher, but rather than waiting for them to notice me, which can sometimes take years, I knew that I had to get my message out there and start saving lives right away.
JA: Do you plan on publishing any more novels?
BA: Definitely. I'm hoping to release a book of poems soon. My next novel I think is going to be about a family member dealing with drug addiction.
JA: What specific LGBT issues is your novel addressing?
BA: It talks about HIV and the online addiction and how the LGBT world struggles in the world of dating. It also is about rape victims and about parents who aren't always there for their kids. In Nigeria, people want to think that there is no LGBT scene and this book discusses it.
JA: What do you mean by the LGBT world struggling with dating and online addiction? What is the correlation?
BA: For example, if a person for certain reasons can't get a real "date", they'll start turning to websites like AdamforAdam and Grindr. It's so easy for people on this site to go from guy to guy, place to place in just one night. This poses a serious danger for people on these sites who are really looking for love and think that this is the only way to find it. There are also people on these sites who only make profiles to scam people and it's usually hard to detect until it's too late. Young men also fall prey to older men with bad intentions who use these sites. The scariest thing I think about is that everyone lists themselves as HIV-, which in reality is just not true.
JA: Is your novel your truth or someone else's?
BA: Some of it is me. It's mostly my friend's truth. I blended some of his life with mine and to protect him, I don't discuss which parts are him and which parts are not.
JA: What are your goals as a writer?
BA: I want to create avenues for youth to speak their truths. Adults want to shut us up because they don't always like the truth, but more young people should speak up to save lives. Without the right people giving you advice, it's really easy to go down the wrong paths and I've seen so many people in my life give up and stop pursuing their goals.
JA: How have sales been so far?
BA: Surprisingly good. I'm at about 200 sales, mostly through Amazon. I'm getting a lot of buyers in Nigeria, Zambia and even a few in London. The book has only been out since October, so I'm very hopeful. I've done a few readings, one at the Center on Halsted. So far no stores are carrying the book but I am talking to a few local bookstores.
Tales of My Skin is available on Amazon.com in a digital and paperback edition.
This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.