Singer-songwriter Allison Russell has signed a deal with Flatiron Books to write a memoir that will cover some of the same territory as her solo debut album “Outside Child,” a lyrical accounting of her journey out of an abusive upbringing and her salvation through music and community. The album was heralded by many critics as one of the best musical efforts of 2021 and is currently up for three Grammys.
Russell’s proposal was quickly embraced by literary agent Meg Thompson who took it to publishers on January 4. Bryn Clark, an editor at Flatiron (a division Macmillan), made a preemptive offer to Russell’s book.
” There have been very few times in my life where I knew I wanted to write a book. Clark says that reading Allison’s proposal was one such occasion. “Her poetic writing and beautifully evocative story set my heart ablaze. Flatiron was moved equally by her talent and larger mission to heal the world .”
Russell tells Variety she was impressed not just that Clark seemed to have listened to or read every interview she did about the “Outside Child” but by the company she will be keeping as an author at Flatiron. “They just published ‘Unbound’ by Tarana, the founder of the MeToo movement. They just put out Ashley C. Ford’s ‘Somebody’s Daughter.’ These are such beautiful books, and writers that have helped me feel in community in the world and empowered, and so to get to be in the same publishing house as them is really extraordinary.”
Working to finish the book will replace a U.K. tour Russell had just canceled. Still making spot appearances to promote “Outside Child,” such as Thursday’s performance on Stephen Colbert’s “Persephone” show. She performed a song from the album, “Persephone,” about how her teenage romance with another Montreal girl was one way out of the darkness she was feeling at home.
The “Outside Child” album already felt like an autobiography; Variety‘s initial review even referred to it “a musical memoir nonpareil… Russell’s solo debut reaches back into the details of an unspeakably abusive upbringing for an almost indescribably rewarding album.” So it wasn’t a stretch for multiple literary agents and publishers to begin wondering last year if there was a book to be had out of her story. Russell provided extensive track-by-track notes for both the CD and vinyl editions of the album. She explained the meaning behind some of the lyrics in a way that could have made a book proposal almost unnecessary.
“That’s right. You might get a deal for a book,” Russell laughs, acknowledging that artists may benefit from enhancing their liner notes. “Well, you’ll know that I’ve always been a word nerd. That’s it. There are very few things I can do. I can only use my words and use melodies. That’s it. I am constantly looking for new ways to use .”
The “Outside Child” album contains some disturbing recollections or allusions about the trauma Russell suffered as a child. It will be more difficult to recount the story at a longer and more literal length than it was to put it into song, which was as difficult as it was. It’s certainly more difficult emotionally, and I know it will take a lot from me emotionally. However, I feel prepared and compelled .”
to take it.
Says Clark – “Allison shared bits of her coming to-of-age story with the world in her album. It left everyone wanting more. Now, she will tell the rest: growing up as an outsider in an abusive white supremacist household, running away from home at 15, and saving herself through music and the legacy of her Black ancestors. Every editor dreams of finding an author whose writing captures humanity .”
Russell reconnected with Thompson through their mutual friend Meghan Helsel, Thompson’s publicist. Says Thompson, “In May of ’21 when ‘Outside Child’ launched, I was sitting outside with my wife and our pod of pandemic friends, and a Spotify mix started playing ‘Nightflyer.’ The conversation stopped, everyone listening, wide-eyed, with jaws dropped. After doing a quick Google search, I found her story and was instantly drawn to Allison’s ability to transform such horrific trauma into beautiful lyrics. Her writing is poetic, nuanced. She can also be playful, joyful, and even humorous. I immediately went to the local record shop to purchase ‘Outside Child’. The liner notes revealed that her prose was as fluid as her song lyrics. It is not easy to transform trauma into joy. I was interested in learning more about Allison’s journey to survival through song and how her joyously optimistic outlook on the world shows that BIPOC, LGBTQ people, and their allies can work together to make the world a better place .
Thompson said that Russell’s proposal was met with a swift response. Meeting requests flooded in from more than 10 editors in just two days, but Bryn was the fastest and the most passionate, and we knew she was the one. With authors under her care such as Tarana Burke and Ashley C. Ford, I had a feeling Bryn would recognize Allison’s talent immediately, and her potential to make the world a better place with her words.” (Clark’s other projects include “The Three Mothers” by Anna Malaika Tubbs, “Hiding in Plain Sight” by Sarah Kendzior, “What Happened to You?” by D