Lee Maracle

Aboriginal authorsInterviewed by Francine Cunningham

Lee Maracle is the author of many critically acclaimed literary works including Sojourner’s and Sundogs, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent Box, and I Am Woman; and the co-editor of anthologies including the award winning My Home As I Remember. She is also co-editor of Telling It: Women and Language across Culture. She was born in North Vancouver and is a member of the Sto: Loh nation.

The mother of four and grandmother of seven, Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the S.A.G.E. (Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education) as well as the Banff Centre for the Arts writing instructor. In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University. She recently received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work promoting writing among Aboriginal Youth. Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington.

What made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

It’s sort of hard to tell you know. I was a little girl and I remember lying to my granddad and him staring at me for a long time and then telling me it was a good story. After that he started telling me stories and then telling me to tell them back to him, different but the same. We played that game quite a lot. When I was older I came across Legends of Vancouver by E. Pauline Johnson, about Capilano and his wife Mary Agnes both telling stories to E. Pauline. I really liked how they told the double headed serpent story, like it was going on right then, and I remember talking to my granddad about that and he called it myth making. You know, we’re supposed to tell stories that way, we don’t tell stories for no reason. When somebody needs a story you tell it to them, but you tell it to them like it’s happening now so that they’ll get the lesson in it. Also, when it comes to myth making, there is a kept version— somebody is the keeper of the story—and everybody else tells the sort of fictitious version or the “un-kept” version. That’s applicable to today, and I decided those were the kind of stories I wanted to write. It took quite a long time to get to the place where I thought I could write those kinds of stories. [Read more…]

Billy Kahora

kahora from kwaniInterviewed by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo.

Billy Kahora is the author of The True Story of David Munyakei, a non-fiction novella about Kenya’s biggest whistleblower, and the screenwriter for Soul Boy, a Kenyan film that was nominated for five African Movie Academy Awards. His short story “Treadmill Love” was highly commended by the judges for the 2007 Caine Prize (the Caine Prize is the preeminent prize for African fiction) and in 2012 his short story “Urban Zoning” was shortlisted for the same. Billy’s writing has appeared in Granta, Kwani?, Chimurenga and Vanity Fair US. He was a Regional judge for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Billy is also the Managing Editor of Kwani?, a leading African literary magazine based in Kenya. Kwani? is Kiswahili for “So what?”

In 2008 I interned at Kwani Trust, the Nairobi-based literary network that develops, publishes and distributes contemporary African writing, and worked as Billy’s Editorial Assistant. I’ve since done some editorial work for Kwani?, their flagship publication. I reached out to Billy for this interview both because I wanted to share one of my literary forbearers with my new space in Canada, but also because I haven’t been able to have much of this kind of conversation with him, and was grateful for the excuse.

Did you always know you would be a writer growing up?

No, I didn’t know I wanted to write when I was a kid, I just read a lot ‘til I was in my teens. When I couldn’t find anything to read that satisfied my curiosity, anger, and admiration for all the things I was seeing and experiencing around me, that’s when I thought about recreating my immediate conditions. I did it for fun until things seemed to get worse around me like they do for all teens. I realized then that I had to take this “replication” of my surroundings a bit more seriously. After that writing became my default way of trying to explain the world, life and all else. The denial that this is what I wanted to do went on for a long time and still goes on. [Read more…]