Prolific children’s author now a novelist
Author Dawne Allette — born 70 years ago on the island of Grenada and a Baltimore resident for the past 33 years — became a writer to contribute stories she felt were missing.
“I started writing because, when I was a little girl in the Caribbean, all the books were about little white girls like Cinderella and Goldilocks. One was nutty enough to wear shoes made of glass, and the other was a felon,” Allette said in an interview with the Beacon.
Allette, who lives in Roland Park, is also a part-time stand-up comedian (as you might have guessed already), sculptor, painter and mosaic-maker.
“I write,” she said, “because it’s a natural thing for me. I breathe. I write. If I don’t write, I’m liable to have an uprising in my brain caused by all the stories that are clamoring around waiting to be told. I call my stories ‘noisy tenants.’”
So far, Allette’s published works include five children’s books; three books for young readers, including two biographies (one of former President Obama, the other of former First Lady Michelle Obama) and a soon-to-be-released book about Baltimore resident Henrietta Lacks; a memoir, and a novel that features, among other things, a U.S. invasion of a Caribbean island not unlike Grenada.
On nights off, Allette has also appeared in front of the stand-up mike in Baltimore-area clubs like Magooby’s Joke House in Timonium.
The birth of a writer
Allette wrote her first book at age 10 because, she said, “I didn’t see myself in books. I was invisible, so I wanted to write about a Black girl. The story was called ‘What Will I Be?’ I rewrote it 40 years later, and it was published as a children’s book.”
Another nudge toward a writing life for the then-12-year-old Dawne was a birthday present of the complete works of William Shakespeare.
“I was very upset,” she said. “But it was a present from an uncle and an aunt, so I had to read it.”
And guess what? “I actually enjoyed it!” she said. Her favorites were Othello and Macbeth, whom she fell for because he was “a grown man, a king, who allows his wife, Lady Macbeth, to coerce him into committing a dastardly act although he was not in agreement. I found it fascinating at a young age the power that one human can have over another.”
She added: “And the words. They sounded fantastic! Like [the witches] in Macbeth: ‘Double, double, toil and trouble.’ I still find myself using these words when I get into a pickle.”
First novel; more on the way
Her first novel, Mango Samba, published in 2019, follows the life of an unhappily married pediatric nurse from Baltimore who, while on a cruise, contemplates jumping overboard, then decides that “the Caribbean Sea was too beautiful a place in which to die.”
Instead, the nurse settles on a Caribbean island “where the people rival the fauna for color and improbability.” So, improbably, she falls in love with a fisherman, has a son, and gets involved in a revolution against a corrupt dictator.
In her latest children’s book, Wellington Willoby Weeks, a character has a magic globe that enables him to travel anywhere. His first trip is to a Brazilian rainforest, where he learns and hopes to pass on the message of how important rainforests are for the survival of humans and everything else.
Allette notes that the best thing about Wellington’s adventures is that he always gets home before his mother notices that he is gone.
While Allette plans to continue writing novels, she will “always get back to children’s books because children who read as children become adults who read as adults,” she said.
Allette’s memoir, Alligator Shoes: Confessions of a Helicopter Mom, is “a collection of stories about raising a little boy who wanted to be a doctor and scientist, and is now a doctor and a neuroscientist,” she said. (The doctor-scientist in question, she noted, was not named because he would rather stay out of the literary limelight.)
A world traveler
Although Allette was born and raised in Grenada, she spent many years in London, followed by a move to Brooklyn. She has also lived in Iran, in other parts of the Middle East and in Europe.
Allette used to work as a literary program facilitator for the Baltimore Public Schools, encouraging children to read and write. She also taught creative writing classes to adults.
Though she likes it here, “I always return once a year to Grenada,” Allette said.
“Grenada is my real home. It’s where the best mangoes are…where the sun caresses you every day, and the Caribbean Sea lulls you to sleep every night. But mostly, I go home to escape winter’s cold embrace.”
Dawne Allette will read an excerpt from her novel Mango Samba at The Ivy Bookshop at 7 p.m. on Tues., Sept. 21. The Ivy Bookshop is located at 5928 Falls Road in Baltimore. For more information, call (410) 377-2966.