Queer Coded: Interview with Carellin Brooks

We chat with writer and poet Carellin Brooks about the lengths we still need to go regarding queer representation, even within the community, LGBTQ2S+ books she always recommends, and which writers influenced her newest book of poetry Learned (Book*hug Press).


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All Lit Up: How is your queer identity reflective in your writing process? Would you say your writing is overtly or covertly queer?

Carellin Brooks:  I’d say it’s pretty overt. There is a lot of lesbian-specific sex described in detail in Learned: fisting, strap-ons, public sex, mock kidnapping, an enema, an orgy where nobody but the hostess actually has sex. At one point I describe the main character’s “Hatched bodysuit,/struggled breasts, guppies netted under.” The main character is young and straining to give an impression of knowing it all, hence the title, but there’s such a farcical quality to so much of her effort.

ALU: What’s a piece of LGBTQ2S+ literature that you heartily recommend?

CB: I really liked Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, a seemingly simple book that gave a lovely glimpse into the sexuality of young boys. I knew a lot about how girls form their sexual identities, what shapes their desire in terms of what they think is allowed and so on, and very little about boys. White writes so tenderly and also matter-of-factly. It’s a sweet book. I also had the chance to listen to a paper recently by the young scholar Avleen Grewal on Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde, which reminded me of how subversive that book continues to be in linking lesbian desire specifically to desire for the mother.

ALU: Which, if any, queer writers influenced your writing of this book?

CB: In Learned I was influenced – as I think I have been for decades – by two (at the time) lesbian writers I first read in my twenties: Jane DeLynn’s novel about a series of lesbian sexual encounters called Don Juan in the Village and the erotic fiction collection Macho Sluts by Pat Califia, now a bisexual trans man. For years after I read DeLynn’s book I kept trying and failing to come up with a compelling way to write about women’s desire for each other. The poem “Break/Try Again,” which chronicles a night of abduction, whipping, cutting and so on, is a very obvious homage in spirit, if not form, to Califia’s “The Birthday Party.”

ALU: Is there anything you would like readers to take away from Learned?

CB: I read some of the more sexually explicit poems from the book at an academic conference in Toronto last month, and a couple of gay men in the audience looked disgusted. Really? In 2023? I would like readers to really enjoy the explorations of female sexuality in this book. The poetry, but also the wordplay and fun. Ideally, this book could also inspire male readers to further support their queer sisters. Lots of men have made these efforts, of course, but I’d like some of the anti-bias work lesbians have done for decades to be taken up more generally by our brethren.

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Carellin Brooks is the author of One Hundred Days of Rain, which won the 2016 ReLit Award for Fiction and the 2016 Edmund White Award for Debut LGBT+ Fiction, and was published in French by Les Allusifs. She is also the author of Fresh Hell, Every Inch a Woman, and Wreck Beach. Brooks lives in Vancouver and is a lecturer at the University of British Columbia.

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Catch up on other Queer Coded interviews here.