Member Spotlight: Noël Alumit


What’s the first book you remember reading?

The encyclopedia. My parents ordered them from a door-to-door salesman. Imagine there used to be a time when a guy went door-to-door selling a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica! I thought it was astounding that there could be so much information in a set of books.     

Name one person who has helped form or shape your creative identity. How so?

Aimee Liu. I was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow in 1998. She was my mentor and she did a lot to shape my writing. I changed the ending of my first novel Letters to Montgomery Clift because of her guidance.  She was right. It worked much better, and made for a more satisfying reading experience, I think.

What book do you think everyone should be reading right now?

The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine. It recently won the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Fiction. I reviewed it for the Los Angeles Review of Books and it was one of the most moving novels I’d read in a long time. It’s about Ya’qub, or Jacob, a San Francisco–based gay Arab poet haunted by the events of his life, including the devastating effects of AIDS.  

What is the worst advice you’ve received as a writer? And what is the best?

The worst advice I ever received was from an agent I was querying. She was very influential and I had hoped she’d represent me. She insisted I change my novel to make it more marketable. I made all the changes she requested and she still decided not to represent me. 

The best advice I got was to write the novel I wanted to write. I took out the changes the previous agent wanted and went back to the original story. I found an agent who understood me and my novel. He’s been my agent for seventeen years.
Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead) and why?  

I really would have loved to have dined with James Baldwin. I think his work on race and sexuality was truly groundbreaking. Gore Vidal would be a close second. 

If you could be one fictional character, who would you be and why?

I love this question. This was a Miss Universe final question in 1994. I remember it because Miss Philippines was asked this question and blew it, ruining her chances of winning. Pageants are a big thing in the Philippines—where I was born—and I dreamed of answering this question in real life!

If I were a fictional character, I would be the Tree in The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I would tell that boy who kept taking everything from me to stop being selfish, plant some flowers around my stump, and show some appreciation and respect for someone who had given so much.

What does the freedom to write mean to you? In what ways has this affected you personally?
In Letters to Montgomery Clift, the protagonist’s father is a journalist who is abducted in the Philippines. The Philippines is still a country where journalists are in danger. The Ampatuan Massacre in 2009 is still the deadliest event journalists anywhere have experienced: thirty-four journalists were killed. 

There are times when I get lazy with my creativity. I don’t want to write or paint or photograph. I have to remember that writers, artists are denied this privilege every day. Those of us who can write freely, should. 

Tell us one way you feel a person can be a good literary citizen.
I’ve hosted events at Skylight Books in Los Feliz for over 15 years now. Please buy books at independent bookstores. Indie stores are really trying to create a literary community in whatever neighborhood they inhabit. They deserve our support.

Noël Alumit wrote the novels Letters to Montgomery Clift and Talking to the Moon. Recently, he was a part of the “Crossing Boundaries: Engendering LGBTQ Identities” exhibition at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, CA. He received his BFA in Drama from the University of Southern California and is working towards a masters in Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy at the University of the West.

Photo Credit: Ariel Aboody.