Updated January 28, 2024
PrideIndex recently interviewed Generation X, Black queer journalist, and writer Roqué Caston-Dillard via email. Roqué is a contributor to the recently released anthology series “SOULS OF QUEER BLACK FOLK, Queering Black History Month.” This past Friday, he appeared with other contributors and Adj. Lecturer Tod Roulette to promote the book. Here’s what he shared about his writings, how he became involved in “Souls of Queer Black Folk…” and what’s next.
PrideIndex (PI): Briefly give us your backstory and how it has brought you to where you are today?
Roqué Caston-Dillard (RCD): My name is Roqué Caston-Dillard. I was born Roqué Caston Jr. in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’m a college graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. I moved to New York City when I was only 20 and a half years old. Since then, I’ve been building and establishing my career as an author, blogger, editor, journalist, and researcher.
I work in lifestyle journalism, where my writings flourish strongly. In the lifestyle industry, I can cover stories in many fields: Personal Life, Health & Wellness, Home & Living, Fashion & Beauty, Travel & Adventure, Food & Cooking, Finance & Money, etc. I share mine along with others’ personal stories.
PI: When did you first know you wanted to become a writer?
RCD: Growing up, I was that little kid writing in journals wherever I went. I was observing life at an early age, writing down my adventures, and sometimes making fictional tales. I didn’t take it seriously. It was just a fun hobby.
One morning during my teenage years, I began to experience a series of migraines that lasted a week in school. Memories of my past combined with character dialogue and action sequences began to form in my head. It was driving me nuts and triggering panic attacks. I knew I had to do something about it because if I didn’t, people would’ve thought I was crazy and tried to have me committed or something. So, I grabbed a pencil and started writing these thoughts, rummaging through my brain on paper. The moment I started writing, I couldn’t stop. When I looked down, the migraines disappeared, and I discovered I had written my first short story. I placed that story to the side and started a new one. I found I was meant to be a writer at that moment, and I never looked back.
PI: Talk about your writing. Who have you written for?
RCD: It took a few years for me to figure out what type of writer I am. It was through the creation of my own blog, “Roqué’s Reality,” back in 2009 that I realized I’m a nonfiction writer. As much as I dipped and dabbed into fiction, writing about my personal experiences is my number one thing. The world is giving me material daily that I can’t help but write about. Once I realized that, it opened the door to the publishing world for me.
I’ve contributed to various digital and print publications throughout the years. Some still exist, while some are not. Essays and lifestyle journalism pieces have been featured in MUSED, Floss Magazine, Brooklyn Pride Guide, SWERV, GBM News, Top Buzz, and Buzzfeed, to name a few; at one point, I was assistant editor for DBQ Magazine while contributing pieces at the same time.
I brought back Roqué’s Reality and transferred it to the new online writing platform Substack. There were times during the 2000s-2010s when I shut down the site and brought it back. I was tired of sharing my life or ran out of material. I found my direction, and my job is to keep it alive. It’s a part of my soul and the central platform where I can share everything.
Will the platform leave Substack and transfer somewhere else? Possibly. Like the world, writing platforms can change, and you have to adapt. I’m still an open freelancer, always interested in writing for other publications.
If I can obtain one of my dream paid jobs, which is to be a lifestyle journalist for a significant lifestyle publication like TimeOut magazine, for example, the sky’s the limit for me.
PI: You worked for Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) for a decade; what exactly did you do for them?
RCD: I hate disappointing you and the readers, but it’s the opposite. I last worked with GMAD a decade ago. A decade ago, I was just a young volunteer in his early 20s who just moved to New York City. It was the first LGBTQ+ organization I was introduced to a month after moving, and I slowly progressed to working with them as a volunteer intern.
I was a part of multiple discussion groups. I was inducted as a member of the Youth Advisory Board, attending various events from politics to pride across the city. Raising awareness and introducing new young faces to the organization, letting them know what they could provide if you enter their doors. Finally, I helped bring back their monthly newsletter, using my knowledge of technology to bring it into the digital world. I was even a cover model for three issues back in 2013.
I left GMAD because I was beginning my freshman year in college and wanted to devote my entire focus to that. With that direction and focus, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English. I will say that GMAD was the first place that made me see and experience the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. As a young man who moved from his conservative hometown, New Orleans, to the fast lane of the Big Apple, it was a culture shock. I had multiple anxiety attacks, and they kept me sane at that point in my life. I’m still in touch with a few of them for advice or quirky conversations.
PI: Your essay is included in the anthology “SOULS OF BLACK QUEER FOLKS…” briefly talk about that. What was it like to work on that project?
RCD: T. Anthony Roulette reached out to me back in 2016, saying that he was curating a panel discussion called “Shout, Sister, Shout: Seeing and Hearing African American LGBT People in Film, Fine Art, Literature, and Music” and asked me if I was interested in joining the panel. I was well into my second and last year at BMCC before graduating and transferring to John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
I accepted and became part of it. I wrote an original essay titled “Modern Langston,” gave a public reading, and joined the discussion group afterward. It was a huge success, and I thanked him for having me as a part of it. It was only a short time before Tod told me he planned on creating an anthology book containing all our essays. I was beyond honored and said “Yes” to the entire idea.
It’s been seven years since that conversation. Now that it’s finally over, I’m beyond happy and honored.
PI: Do you plan to tour with T. Anthony Roulette to promote this anthology? If so, when and where?
RCD: I plan to tour with him and the other contributors who plan to join. The thing about Tod is that he’s a fantastic human being. After the discussion group, I became well acquainted with him. He introduced me to parts of Harlem that I didn’t know about. He and his partner are down-to-earth and funny. We collaborated in another discussion group a year later, which was great.
I haven’t seen him around physically or kept in touch for a few years because life sends us, along with everyone else, into different directions. So it’ll be great to see and work with him again.
The first leg of the tour will happen in New York City at Recirculation, a Word Community Book Shop in Harlem, on January 26th, the same day as the release of the anthology book. The second book launch and reading will be on February 23rd at the 4 West Lounge on 127th St.
I can’t confirm the other three dates because they have final business discussions behind the scenes. A third reading is being planned for Giovanni’s Room bookstore in Philadelphia, as well as at Poets and Busboys in D.C. and Caino’s Bookstore in Sag Harbor.
PI: Describe your writing process; how do you work on ideas from conception to actualization and get those ideas jotted down on paper?
RCD: The greatest thing about writing in the lifestyle world is that everything is material: the food you eat, the events you go to, the topic of conversations with your peers at the table, social commentary on the news, etc. Research is a fun hobby for me. I had an idea for an article the other day about how annoyed I was by the elevator and on-hold phone call music, and I wondered if others agreed with me. I wrote the idea so I would remember.
Once I get alone at night and begin writing, everything is quiet. I turn off the TV, close my door, and put my laptop in airplane mode. I’m all about organization and structure, so my writing isn’t excluded. I learned a form of journalism story writing called “Lead, Bridge, Body, and Ending.” I follow that system to this day to write every piece of my work.
You can write any of those parts first. Many writers do it. But once you get your rough ideas down, just like a puzzle game, combine all the pieces. You’ll be a wonderful writer in any field if you can accomplish that and continue to hone it.
PI: What would you like readers to take away from your writings?
RCD: There are two things I want the readers to take away from my writing. The very first one is to have fun. I know that the world is scary and serious. Whenever you turn on the news or check websites to keep up with current events, it’s dark and heartbreaking. It makes you not want to leave your house and face the world.
But there are still fun things out there that can put a smile on your face. I find fun stories to share and write about daily through all the severe content. Metaphorically speaking, it’s like hunting through the darkness to find that one beacon of light and get your story. Of course, I read, not skim through the serious content, because being self-aware about the world is important, but the funny stories brighten my day.
My life is dedicated to fun and entertainment every day, and it is reflected in my writing.
The second thing I want readers to take away is that I’m human, just like everyone. I rise and fall just like everyone else. Despite my inner desires to be an intelligent person inside and out, I’m still imperfect and still learning about the world just like everyone else. Mother Nature and human society have had an immortal dysfunctional relationship ever since she gave birth to our species. Natural-born writers have always been documenting things; I’m honored to do this in this era.
PI: Name three people who have influenced your artistic style most.
RCD: Nora Ephron: I have no shame in saying to the world that I wouldn’t be the writer I am if it wasn’t for that writer and filmmaker. It seriously broke my heart that she passed away. She taught me that everything in life is copy and material. Some things in your life that started out incredibly sad and bad could turn into a funny story. She followed that mantra, and everyone in the world took notice, from the publishing to the film industry.
Augusten Burroughs: Augusten was the first writer I came across who not only wrote about his life but was also not afraid to share his dark, gritty tales in a funny way. When I got my hands on Running With Scissors, I felt like I met someone who understood me and my life at that time. He took his crazy life and turned it around into something magical. He taught me that you can find beauty in what some people call grotesque.
Maya Angelou: In the African-American community, we’re taught not to share our personal stories with the public. We’re supposed to be quiet and sweep things under the rug. Maya Angelou didn’t do that and was praised for her bravery. I respect her work as a poet, but discussing her personal life publicly through her memoirs gave me the courage to do the same.
Before the others, I didn’t even know that writing about your life was a thing because that’s what I was taught. That’s why she still, to this day, is my absolute praise.
PI: What are you working on right now?
RCD: I keep most projects a secret until they’re done or nearing completion. But I’m happy to share a few of them. One major project in development is my memoir titled “Roqué’s Reality Vol. 1 (21-31)”. As the title states, it’s the story of my life from ages 21-31. It starts at the beginning when I moved to New York City and ends at a particular moment that began the next chapter in my life.
I’ve done many things privately and publicly in college, building my career and becoming a mini-figure in the LGBTQ+ community. The main point of this memoir is that it’s an “emerging adulthood” tale. Many people can relate to part of my life when it comes out.
I wrote a one-hour TV pilot I’m pitching to production companies now. I have ideas for a soap opera show and a psychological thriller movie, which are currently on my desk. There are more things in my head, but I gotta take it slow right now.
PI: Is there anything else you would like to share?
RCD: Returning to my Nora Ephron, she followed this mantra: “Everything is copy” or “Turn tragedy into fun.” This is a mantra I follow that I created myself. Begin and end your day with a smile on your face. I follow that saying every day. Your days may have ups and downs like everyone else, but if you can keep smiling, you win. Life didn’t defeat you, and it didn’t.
So do your best to smile by the time you get up in the morning, stretching your muscles to the end, where you go back to bed with your eye mask on.
PI: How can we keep abreast of the projects you’re working on?
RCD: You can subscribe to Roqué’s Reality on Substack and read more about reality.
Roqué Caston Jr. (@roquesreality) / X (twitter.com)