Brandy Colbert on Examining Addiction, Race, & Respectability Politics
Most of my books start with an idea of a character first. Sometimes it’s a voice, but not always; sometimes it’s a detail of the character’s life or a personality trait that leads me to their full development.
But The Revolution of Birdie Randolph began with a topic. Which, frankly, was surprising to me. Each of my books has started with a different seed, and though my work deals with heavy topics, I pride myself on not writing “issue books”—books that set out to teach readers a lesson through a black-and-white lens. But when I started this novel, I knew that I wanted to write a book featuring a family that deals with addiction, and that is how Birdie was born.
I also don’t typically base books on myself or the people I know, but the need to delve into this topic sprang from something I was observing in real life. One of my oldest friends from childhood, who lives halfway across the country, was struggling hard with addiction. They were hanging out with people who didn’t have their best interests at heart and had been in and out of police custody for months when I started writing Birdie. I was sick with worry, unable to help and seeing they weren’t yet ready to help themselves. I couldn’t stop thinking about how their substance abuse was not only negatively affecting their lives but causing a rapid decline in their relationships with family members and friends.
At its heart, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is about a black girl, same as my other books. Pointe is about a Midwestern black girl dealing with past trauma and inescapable guilt. Little & Lion is about a Jewish black girl questioning her sexuality and struggling to support her brother. Finding Yvonne is about a Southern California–based black girl trying to figure out her calling in life, process a distant relationship with her father and the longtime disappearance of her mother, and make decisions that are best for her, even if they’re unpopular choices.