Ten Questions for Evette Dionne

by Staff

This week’s installment of Ten Questions features Evette Dionne, whose new book, Weightless: Making Space for My Resilient Body and Soul, is out now from Ecco. In this intimate essay collection, Dionne charts the intersections of gender, race, disability, and body size to explore her identity as a fat Black woman, hoping to “light a pathway for other fat people to reclaim their bodies.” Beginning with her diagnosis of heart failure at age twenty-nine, and her adjustment to a “new normal” filled with medications and vigilance about her health, Dionne looks back at what brought her to this moment. Aiming “to shift how we individually and collectively understand the fat experience,” Dionne considers how her identities have influenced her interactions with peers and authority figures, romantic interests, and the larger world of art and commerce. She mashes up personal stories with cultural critique, interrogating how fat lives are portrayed on screen, the fat-industrial complex that has enriched companies like Weight Watchers, and the problems with well-meaning public crusades against obesity, such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to help kids lose weight. Dionne locates fatphobia within a larger ecosystem of social injustice: “Fatphobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and other forms of oppression are a matrix that we’re taught to see ourselves and the world through,” she writes. “But abolitionist organizer Mariame Kaba has taught us that hope is a discipline, and creating a new world requires us to imagine what’s beyond our immediate periphery.” Kirkus praises Weightless, calling it “a provocatively necessary collection.” Evette Dionne is the National Book Award–nominated author of Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2020). Based in Denver, she is the executive editor of YES! Media, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, and Teen Vogue, among other publications.

Evette Dionne, author of Weightless: Making Space for My Resilient Body and Soul.   (Credit: Brien Howell)

1. How long did it take you to write Weightless?
I began writing the first iteration of Weightless in 2017. Of that original proposal and book, which were sold and then scrapped, only a single essay remains in this collection. After my heart failure and pulmonary hypertension diagnoses, I revisited the collection and realized it needed to be a different book entirely. That was in late 2019, so I have been working on this latest version for roughly three years.

2. What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?
Figuring out the structure was the most challenging thing about writing Weightless. I knew it would be an essay collection, but it also interweaves research and pop-cultural touchstones, so it needed to feel like a cohesive narrative. Figuring out the timeline—Would it be chronological? Would it be based around specific experiences?—was a conundrum for quite a long time. For that reason, the middle of the book took the longest time to come together.

3. Where, when, and how often do you write?
I always write at my desk in my office, or sometimes when I’m feeling adventurous I’ll write at a desk in my local library. I still work a full-time job, so I typically write in the early evenings. I write 1,000 words a day when I’m working on a book project, and I write once a week when I’m not.

4. What are you reading right now?
Right now, I’m reading Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory, Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan, and Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. I always pair a few books together. I don’t know why I read that way. I just always have.

5. Which author or authors have been influential for you, in your writing of this book in particular or as a writer in general?
I owe so much to other writers who’ve published books about fatness and showed publishing that our experiences are valuable. There are far too many to name, but Lindy West, Roxane Gay, Jes Baker, Marianne Kirby, Crystal Maldonado, Gabourey Sidibe, Susie Orbach, Aubrey Gordon, Marilyn Wann, and Julie Murphy were so influential in terms of my thinking around this book.

6. What is one thing that surprised you during the writing of Weightless?
While I am mining painful experiences, some of which are laced with trauma, it was cathartic to write this book. I expected it to be retraumatizing, but instead it was freeing. It actually brought me deep joy to voice these experiences, sometimes for the first time. The truth set me free.

7. What is one thing that your agent or editor told you during the process of publishing this book that stuck with you?
I hit a bump about three months before the first draft of Weightless was due. I’d split it up, so I was turning in chunks of the book at a time, but then I hit a stalemate because I was anxious about following the success of Lifting as We Climb. My agent and my editor pulled me into a meeting and told me: “All you have to do is write. Let us worry about how the book will be positioned and how people will receive it. You just get the writing done.” I can’t control much about how Weightless will be received, but I can control what I write and how much of myself I put into the manuscript.

8. If you could go back in time and talk to the earlier you, before you started Weightless, what would you say?
I’d tell that Evette to stay the course. I would tell her that birthing this book will be a difficult, jagged process that includes a lot of heartbreak and redirection, but the journey is worth it. Just stay focused on becoming a better writer, building community with fellow writers and editors, and treating yourself as well as you treat others. All things happen in the time they’re meant to happen.

9. What forms of work, other than writing, did you have to do to complete this book?
This might seem counterintuitive, but when I’m writing a book, I read a lot. I can’t read books in the genre that I’m writing in—so I didn’t read any essay collections for this book—but I otherwise read scores of books when I’m writing. It’s almost like a form of escapism. When I’m done writing, especially since I write nonfiction, I get to escape into a fictional world that’s often so different than the one I’m inhabiting.

10. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard is that the actual writing is a solo endeavor, but the revision process is a group assignment. That’s when you should and must seek counsel—from other writers you trust, from your agent, and from your editor.