Day 18: Bil Wright

Bil Wright is an award winning novelist, playwright, and director. His latest award was announced last month at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting– The Stonewall Book Award -Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award for Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy.

“Carlos Duarte knows who he is and isn’t trying to be anyone else—in fact, Carlos is waiting for the world to catch up to him,” said Stonewall Book Awards Committee Chair Lewis Day. Congratulations, Bil!

Bil has three other novels and his plays include Bloodsummer Rituals, Leave Me a Message, and This One Girl’s Story. He directed Yasmin Rana’s The War Zone Is My Bed, New World Theatre Dance Festival, and The Man Who came to Dinner. His work has also appeared in anthologies. Bil says he has always loved to read and write. “I just like to write, to put words together to create images or tell stories.” His goal is to stimulate an impact in his readers, something two of his favorite authors did for him; J. D. Salinger and James Baldwin. Bil’s work portrays what’s on the minds of young people—things they really want to happen in their lives. He speaks to their conflicts and struggles and hopes they realize that even though their life may be hard right now, you can be who you are in the long run. Today, the 18th day of our annual 28 Days Later campaign, we’re honoring Bil Wright for his writing successes and his contributions to the world of children’s publishing.

The Journey

I’ve always written. I was always a kid with a piece of paper scribbling down thoughts or mages. I’m still that kid. When I was much younger, it was a way of escaping. I loved and was fascinated by fairy tales; the way one story could have elements of longing and fulfillment, evil and cruelty, curses of eternal damnation and lives to be lived happily forever. I began to create my own fairytales, writing about the good and the wicked I knew, the people who made my life feel heavenly or like a never-ending hell. I learned that I too could have my stories published for others to read and that the readers of my stories might be carried to other worlds that either made them laugh out loud or touched a place of sadness deep within them. It was perhaps the first time I fell in love with the idea that there was a continuing circle of images and characters being created and passed along to others to know, in stories, in books, in plays.  There were characters to love or hate, or become friends with for a time until their story ended and you wished them well, knowing your friendship had ended with the last page of their story.

My first stories were published in anthologies. I wrote poems and sent them out and had them included in books of poetry. When I heard a writer suggest that short stories were for sprinters and novelists were long-distance runners, I took it as a challenge to see if I could indeed run for a long distance, carrying my characters and their stories with them. My first book was SUNDAY YOU LEARN HOW TO BOX which attracted adults and young adults and was received favorably in publications for both. My next two books for young adults were WHEN THE BLACK GIRL SINGS and PUTTING MAKE-UP ON THE FAT BOY. I’m thankful that both young adults and adults have responded to all of my books.

The Inspiration

One of my first inspirations was James Baldwin. As a very young person, I’d never read work that transported me to the world of Harlem, which I knew well, but not from another, earlier time. I’d read about late 18th century England and the early 19th century and also of America in earlier times, but never had I read a book that clearly and sympathetically portrayed people I knew so intimately. And I knew I could trust Baldwin because of his honesty. Black people, in his writing, could be brutal, but they could have great dignity and emotional breadth and stature as well. I am so thankful that he existed and cared so much about his work and the stories he told. In college, I had the honor to meet Gwendolyn Brooks and share some of my poetry with her. She was very complimentary and made it clear to me that writing was an important part of my life that I should invest in. Alice Walker and Toni Morrison can never be acknowledged enough. I still celebrate the royalty of literature as I know them to be. They provided me with inspiration when inspiration was sorely needed.

Now, though, I’m most inspired by the people around me, both young and old. I think these are pretty challenging times and when I see certain people struggle to keep going toward any productive goal, I’m truly inspired. There are so many people who are going without some pretty basic things like decent education and decent food and decent shelter, I can’t help but be inspired by their struggle to keep moving toward the light. I want so much for young people to challenge themselves and the older people around them to be the best that they can be, to have the courage to truly love themselves and each other. I know it may sound like a Christmas card, but that’s the point. Whether we believe in a Christian God or not, the principles of love and respect and honesty go a long way toward making our individual and collective lives better.

 The Back Story

My editor for PUTTING MAKE-UP ON THE FAT BOY first read my book, SUNDAY YOU LEARN HOW TO BOX.  The protagonist, Louis Bowman, is a young kid and it’s his pretty perilous journey (although he has a great sense of humor), that the books centers on. David, my editor, read the book and suggested to the editor of SUNDAY that I had a great “voice” for young adult readers. When I finished WHEN THE BLACK GIRL SINGS, my agent sent it to him and he published BLACK GIRL and PUTTING MAKE-UP ON THE FAT BOY.

The Buzz

One of Barnes and Noble Reviews Best Books for Young Adults of 2011

Wright (When the Black Girl Sings) gives voice, complexity, and heart to the kind of character often relegated to a cliché sidekick role. Sixteen-year-old Carlos Duarte’s dream is to become a famous makeup artist (“I’ve had subscriptions to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar since I was fourteen… so I knew what I was doing was beyond genius”). Carlos’s mother has lost her job, and his older sister is getting abused by her boyfriend, who is also harassing Carlos for being gay. Carlos’s single-minded drive for success leaves some casualties in his wake (as when a $300 borrowed pair of “beyond incredible” boots are damaged when he’s assaulted), but his big heart, optimism, and powers of persuasion are infectious. And given the very realistic harassment Carlos regularly suffers, those attributes are a survival skill, too. He’s a walking example of the inner strength teens need–regardless of their sexuality.   Publishers Weekly.

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, by Bil Wright, is a new YA novel whose main character Carlos Duarte, “knows that he’s fabulous. He’s got a better sense of style than half the fashionistas in New York City, and he can definitely apply makeup like nobody’s business. He may only be in high school, but when he lands the job of his dreams–makeup artist at the Feature Face counter in Macy’s–he’s sure that he’s finally on his way to great things…”      Lambda Lliterary Review
Carlos, 16 and fabulous, just knows he’s going to be famous. Cocky but playful—”I had just the slightest touch of color in my cheeks. I’d given myself a manicure. I looked beyond excellent!”—Carlos strides purposefully toward his goal: Makeup artist to the stars. Zipping around Manhattan, he obtains employment with a hip, prestigious cosmetics company in Macy’s and nabs a position working for the star of a Saturday Night Live equivalent. His campy voice (“seriously gorgeous bootay. Tight and round and perched, honey, perched!”) turns bitchy sometimes. He also needs to learn accountability for his actions: Macy’s makeup really can’t leave the store before being paid for, no matter how famous the star requesting it, and Stella McCartney boots begged from a friend must be returned pristine. Carlos loses that friend but narrowly saves his job; he also fights his sister’s abuser (who calls Carlos “maricón”) and strains for dignity when a kind but clueless straight boy tells Carlos to his face that he doesn’t return his crush. Wright’s occasionally flashy but mostly straightforward  prose should work equally well for bookish and non-bookish readers; the excellent treatment of a gay, Latino teen. He may step on some toes along the way, but this fat boy’s going places.  Kirkus Reviews

“What an amazing time in which we live, where a book like this could be
conceived, written, published, and put in the hands of young people who are struggling to become themselves in a world that may not understand them. How I wish such a shining light was available to me at that age; in my time, I had to search for it. In this wonderful, fun, insightful, and astonishing book, that light is shining from the first page to the last, showing us all the way through the darkness to our own truth. I am heartened that the world is changing to accept each of us for our beautiful gifts…this book is proof of it.”  Chris March, Star of BRAVO TV’s MAD FASHION







Find out more about Bil Wright at

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