V.V. Ganeshananthan

 

The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) presents its Fifth Annual Asian Literary Festival. Titled “Electric Ladyland,” the two-day event featured a series of readings, panels, and workshops at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the New School for Social Research. Photo by Preston Merchant.

Interviewed by Seema Amin

“We must go on struggling to be human

though monsters of abstraction

police and threaten us.     

~   Robert Hayden

V.V. Ganeshananthan is a novelist, short story and non-fiction writer, as well as a journalist and poet. Her debut novel, Love Marriage (Random House, 2008), received widespread acclaim; it was named one of Washington Post World’s Best of 2008 and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and was also longlisted for the Orange Prize. Spanning the fraught margins of war, diaspora, ethnicity, identity, nation and geopolitics, her work has been distinguished as passionate, and continues to be unrelenting, lucid, and fierce. Tracing the political and personal genealogy of a Sri Lankan Tamil American girl called Yalini, whose immigrant family’s move from the US to Toronto acts as a catalyst for the unravelling of secrets, both familial and national, personal and transpersonal as Yalini grapples with an ex-militant uncle, a link to the 25 year war still raging (at the time) in Sri Lanka, Love Marriage is the seemingly innocuous title of a courageous debut novel that had its origins as a series of vignettes composed while Ganeshananthan was still a student finishing her Bachelor thesis at Harvard in 2002.  In the years between, Ganeshananthan had established herself as a journalist and non-fiction writer.

Since then, she has continued writing across genres, though themes and areas of interest, whether intellectual, personal, aesthetic or regional, certainly overlap and reinforce each other.  Formerly Vice President of SAJA (South Asian Journalists’ Association), her articles, reviews and essays have regularly appeared in The New York TimesThe Atlantic MonthlyThe Washington PostColumbia Journalism ReviewThe San Francisco ChronicleHimal Southasian, and The American Prospect, among others. Her short stories have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014.  She has served on the board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and is presently part of the graduate board of The Harvard Crimsonas well as a contributing editor for Copper Nickel. A graduate of Harvard College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Bollinger Fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she was Delbanco Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Helen Zell Writers Program at University of Michigan from 2009 to 2014 and has been teaching at University of Minnesota since 2015, with a stint as visiting assistant professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fall of 2016 as well. Earlier, she was awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, Philips Exeter Academy, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is a founding member of Lanka Solidarity and serves on the board of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies.

How has your sense of place and childhood (where you grew up) and school experiences influenced your decision to pursue journalism, write novels? I know you later worked with Jamaica Kincaid in Harvard, who supervised your thesis, what was that like?


I grew up outside Washington, D.C., in Bethesda, Maryland, and my friends and I talked about politics all the time. We read the newspaper voraciously and liked to dissect things going in the White House and on Capitol Hill. It makes some sense to me now that this might have contributed to my political interests in storytelling. I always thought and was taught that life and politics were intertwined. And I saw people tell stories to gain political power, or to take it from others. 

Jamaica Kincaid was a generous editor and teacher; she used to have me read my work aloud to myself, and then she would help me edit as I was reading. Being her student was a transformative experience.

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Linda Bailey

Interviewed by Elizabeth Leung

Linda Bailey is a reader, traveller, daydreamer, and the award-winning author of more than two dozen books for children.  Born in Winnipeg, she has travelled around the world by ship, working in England and Australia.  She earned a B.A. and M.Ed. at the University of British Columbia and later worked as a travel agent, college teacher, instructional designer and editor.  Linda didn’t begin to write in earnest until she had two daughters, Lia and Tess, and published her first book in 1992.  She has since written more than twenty others, including novels, picture books, graphic novels, and non-fiction.  Her books have travelled as widely as she has and have been published in places such as Greece, Latvia, Korea, China, Australia, Denmark, U.K., France, and Poland. 

Linda now lives in Vancouver within strolling distance of the sea.  She is a full-time writer and still loves to read, travel, and daydream.  I had the pleasure of speaking to Linda over email. 

On your website you describe how life as a writer snuck up on you.  Can you tell us what steps you took once you finally decided to publish your first book, How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garage?

Actually, it wasn’t my first book. At the time I finished that first novel, I had already been writing and submitting for five or six years — all picture books. I had gotten encouraging nibbles from publishers, but no bites. I had also learned a few things, including the fact that it’s extremely hard to break in with a picture book manuscript. Why? Because the slush pile is ceiling-high! Publishers receive a deluge of picture book manuscripts from people (including movie stars) who have never, and will never, do any serious writing but who read a picture book one day and think, “Is that all? Jeez! Short, easy. Even I could do that!” Two days later, they fire off a manuscript. When I figured that out, I decided to try a different genre. 

At that time, there was a popular adult genre that was a lot of fun — female/feminist, slightly hardboiled detective novels, usually with a strong hit of humour. I wondered if I could do that kind of novel for kids. I wrote a couple of pages about a smart-mouthed girl named Steve Diamond — and was hooked. Several hundred pages and multiple drafts later, I submitted How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garbage? to Kids Can Press. It got an offer within two months. They liked the book, yes. But it was also, I imagine, the only female funny 12-year-old Canadian detective story they had received that day/week/month or maybe year. So it got my toe in the publishing door. (P.S. It also got my picture books in the door. To date, I have 15 published picture books.)

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Angie Abdou

Interviewed by Bri Dempsey

Angie Abdou is the award-winning Canadian author of Anything Boys Can Do (2006), The Bone Cage (2007), The Canterbury Trail (2011) and Between (2014). Her first novel, The Bone Cage (2007) was a finalist on the 2011 Canada Reads competition, defended by Georges Laraque, as well as named the MacEwan Book of the Year in 2012. The Bone Cage was ranked first on CBC’s list of Top Ten Sports Books in 2010 as well as featured by Kootenay Library Foundation for the first annual “One Book, One Kootenay” celebration in 2009. The Canterbury Trail won a 2012 IPPY (Independent Publishing Award) Gold Medal for Canada West. Between received the “Best of 2014” accolades from PRISM Magazine, 49th Shelf, and The Vancouver Sun

In addition to being a novelist, Angie also frequently participates in and moderates panel discussions at writers’ festivals across the country. She regularly contributes to Quill & Quire, a leading Canadian magazine for the book industry. She taught at College of the Rockies for fifteen years before joining the faculty at Athabasca University where she is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing. She has a new novel, What Remains, out with Arsenal Pulp Press in September 2017 and is hard at work on a memoir called Hockey Mom.

When she is in between books, Angie is constantly involved in furthering the discussion in Canadian Literature. My favorite quote about her comes from Hal Wake who said, “When it comes to moderating a panel, I could take a chance on somebody new or I could fly out Angie Abdou and know it will be money well spent.” I wanted to interview her about the career she has outside of writing books because I believe they inform each other. I also believe that in the modern definition of being a writer, wearing many hats is the best way to get the most out of your career. 

You have such a diverse portfolio of work: Everything from teaching to moderating panels to reviewing books to writing and promoting your own. How do you find new challenges and where do you get your inspiration from?

I don’t think of my interests as that diverse. Most everything I do, I do for a love of books, and also for a love of the kind of people who write those books. I like being deeply immersed in a world where stories and art matter and where people are motivated by something other than the obvious financial interests that drive so many people. The typical bores me. People living un-examined lives bore me. Writers don’t tend to be typical. 

Like many writers, I write because I can’t help it. That’s the only reason to write. But over the years, the more involved I have become in the Canadian writing community, the more I have felt I’ve truly found my people. And as I immersed myself in that culture, I found I didn’t need to seek out new challenges; those challenges mostly seem to come to me. Festival hosts and editors have been very generous in reaching out to me and involving me in their projects.

I get inspiration from anyone engaging with books in new and exciting ways – whether it’s Hal Wake or Shelley Youngblut with their energetic festivals or Martha Sharpe with her curated collection of flying books or Trevor Corkum with his insightful author blog or The New Quarterly and all the other magazines putting out high quality work of new and established writers. All of that inspires me.

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Michael Booth

Interview by Aliz Tennant

Michael Booth has studied at the world’s most famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, had his book on his family’s food-filled adventure across Japan turned into a NHK World Japanese TV animation and travelled across Scandinavia trying to find the key to their success. 

The award-winning author of five non-fictions books, Booth is also a journalist, broadcaster and speaker, writing predominantly on travel and food. His work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, The Telegraph and Condé Nast Traveller magazine among other publications. He is a correspondent for Monocle magazine and their radio station Monocle 24, reporting from Copenhagen, where he lives with his family. 

His first book Just As Well I’m Leaving provided him with an opportunity to escape Denmark, when he followed Hans Andersen’s travelogue across Europe, making his own adventures on the way. His latest book, The Almost Nearly Perfect People, sees Booth continue to explore his relationship with Denmark and the Nordic countries as he travels to each of them in the hope of understanding their secrets to success, what they think of each other and whether the lifestyles meet up to expectation.

I interviewed Booth via email to ask him to share his secrets to success when it comes to writing.

You worked in television before you began writing for magazines and going back to university to study journalism. Why choose a career in writing?

Television was absolutely awful, a toxic environment, but I stuck at it for a while because I had been brainwashed into thinking it was the job every graduate wanted. Eventually, I realised it just wasn’t ever going to lead me anywhere remotely happy-making. It was only when a friend mentioned that there existed such a thing as a post-graduate course in feature journalism, that I saw a possibility to become the kind of journalist I admired without having to work on a local newspaper reporting on overdue library book scandals and suchlike. I realised that freelance feature writing was a passport literally to the world, and would allow me to butterfly around to whatever subject interested me.

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Ellen Hopkins

Interviewed by Meagan Black

Ellen Hopkins is a life-long writer who exploded onto the New York Times’ bestseller list in 2004 with Crank, a novel written in free verse that was loosely based on her daughter’s real struggles with “the monster”—crystal meth. Verse novels and “difficult” subjects have become her trademark over the past fifteen years; since Crank, she has published twelve more YA novels in verse, tackling topics from suicide to sex trafficking to eating disorders, and three adult novels, two of which are also in verse.

Ellen lives on 1.25 acres of Nevada hills overlooking Washoe Lake, on her website, and—for about a hundred days each year—on the road. She is also currently raising three grandchildren under twelve, but was kind enough to make time for this interview over email.

Though your big splash was Crank, you actually published over 20 nonfiction books for children before your first novel in verse (and YA bestseller) came out, and before that you were a freelance journalist. How did you make the move from writing articles to writing books? And what was it like when your very first book came out?

Some of the articles I wrote as a freelancer required heavy research, and through that, the subject matter drew me to write about it deeper. I’ve always loved flight, so writing about air racing made me think about the history of flight through man’s love of competition. Who was first into the sky? Who was the first woman into the sky? How did they fly? (Kites and balloons, in case you’re interested.)

First book to now, every time I see a cover with my name on it, there’s an immense sense of satisfaction.

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André Picard

Globe and Mail business journalist Andre Picard poses in the Montreal offices on September 6, 2012. For Promotions (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

Interviewed by Vanessa Hrvatin

André Picard is a health reporter and columnist at the Globe and Mail where he has worked for 30 years. Over this time, he has established himself as a leader in the field of health journalism, being named Canada’s first “public health hero” by the Canadian Public Health Association. He has won many prestigious awards, including a National Newspaper Award—Canada’s top journalism prize—for column writing. Mr. Picard has also written several non-fiction books, his most recent Matters of Life and Death: Public Health Issues in Canada set to hit bookstores in April.

When I spoke to Mr. Picard, he was in Quebec City covering the recent mosque attack. I managed to catch him at a quiet moment where he filled me on his long-standing career as a health reporter.

Was being a journalist always what you wanted to do?

No, not at all. I actually studied accounting. I only got involved in my student newspaper because I’m a big music fan, so I ended up being a record reviewer—that’s how my stellar career began. But the funny thing is because I was a business student I sort of got drawn further and further into the paper because student newspapers always have money problems. So I got drawn in in an odd fashion and never became an accountant.

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Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

bio-photoInterviewed by Matthew Kok.

It was a big night for Emerson Poetry Project—Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib was performing. As a first-year student at Emerson college, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this big important writer, or what to expect from the night of poetry ahead, or what to expect from a poem.

He walked up to the mic, and for the rest of the night we were traveling. That’s how I ended up being pulled into Hanif’s work. He took the music in our lives, the images of them—a dorm bunk, the sky from an airplane seat—and proved their relationship, its intimacy. He brought us his own stories, and they became ours.

At the end of the night, Hanif walked to the middle of the crowd. As we huddled around him, intimate, shoulder-to-shoulder, his life opened itself up to us. Through his writing and slam poetry, Hanif’s life and influence has continued to open itself up to me. As Bobby Crawford, then-MC of the Emerson Poetry Project said about Hanif four years ago, “No one is doing it like him right now.”

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s life began in Columbus, Ohio. You can read his poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, from Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, other journals. His essays and music criticism has been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, and the New York Times. He has been nominated for the Pushcart prize, and his poem “Hestia” won the 2014 Capital University poetry prize. He is a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow, an interviewer at Union Station Magazine, and a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine. He is a member of the poetry collective Echo Hotel with poet/essayist Eve Ewing. Additionally, he is a columnist at MTV News, where he writes about music, and fights to get Room Raiders back on the air. He talked to me about exploring genre, branching out of slam, bridge-building, and survival strategies in dark times.

I think I remember you saying you got started writing a little bit later in life?

I started writing poems around 2012. I had been writing music criticism freelance for a while, since like 2009, and I kind of got a little tired of it and wanted to branch out into other things. Poetry was the natural leap for me because I was so interested in analyzing lyrics, picking through language on a larger, more artistic scale. So, poetry kind of afforded a really good opportunity to just expand on that.

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Andrea Canning

DATELINE NBC -- Season: 24 -- Pictured: Andrea Canning -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

DATELINE NBC — Season: 24 — Pictured: Andrea Canning — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Interviewed by Stephanie Hungerford

Andrea Canning is a correspondent for NBC’s Dateline and contributes to all NBC News platforms. She has reported on major crime stories, high profile trials and breaking news, including the Boston Marathon Bombing, Hurricane Sandy, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Since arriving at Dateline, she has also reported hour-long documentaries on campus sexual assault and adoption fraud.

Prior to joining NBC News in 2012, Canning served as an ABC News correspondent for eight years where she covered the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and the Iraq War, reporting on everything from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Casey Anthony case, to her 2011 headline-making interview with actor Charlie Sheen. Long before that, Canning was a reporter and evening news anchor for CKVR Television in Barrie, Ontario. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, she also studied radio and television arts at Ryerson in Toronto. Canning is married to Lt. Col. Tony Bancroft, a former F-18 fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps. They have five young daughters. She is on Twitter @CanningAndrea.

I reached out to her because she is an inspiration to me, not only as a writer, but also as a working mother in the highly competitive television industry. Canning’s dedication to her work and family is more than just admirable. When I met with her in New York a few years back, she walked me through her daily schedule. I’ll never forget it. The hours were grueling. She was up at the crack of dawn, sometimes earlier, and back at the studio late into the evening. Every minute was accounted for, including making sure she had dinner with her daughters, regardless of whether or not she had to go back to the studio to burn the midnight oil. Hard working and determined, Canning’s real gift is her way with words. Her investigations are thorough yet empathetic; kind yet inquisitive. The way she unravels a story is so intuitive that she’s able to guide the viewer on an effortless journey. If that isn’t the mark of a great storyteller, I don’t know what is.

You’ve had a very successful career as a correspondent working for major American networks. How did you land your first job?

There was no internet, so I paid for this service called Medialine that cost about 10 dollars a month. It listed local news job openings across the country on its telephone hotline. I sent out my VHS resume reels to 60 stations. I got two calls. One from Nebraska and one from Mississippi.  Nebraska passed. Mississippi gave me a pop quiz on the phone. I passed and was hired as their morning anchor. I had made a very amateur reel that thankfully made enough of an impression. Times have changed!
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Garth Martens

GarthBioPicInterviewed by Patrick Murray

Garth Martens won the 2011 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. His first book Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, 2014) was a Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry. His poems have appeared in publications like Poetry Ireland Review, Hazlitt, This Magazine, Geist, Vallum, Fiddlehead, Prism, Grain, and Best Canadian Poetry in English. In collaboration with Alma de España Flamenco Dance Company, he wrote and performed the libretto for Pasajes, an international production staged in 2014 at the Royal Theatre.

For nine years Martens has worked in large-scale commercial construction throughout northern Alberta and interior British Columbia. As another writer who has worked in the oil patches of northern Alberta, and who dried up as a creative force in that environment, I was particularly interested in what drove him to keep writing, let alone maintain inspiration, in such a rugged and muscular environment. His book Prologue for the Age of Consequence is almost entirely concerned with the world of the tar sands, and the lives of those who work within it. I also couldn’t ignore his penchant for Flamenco, and what thoughts he might bring to bear on “cross-pollination” in the arts.

First off, and it’s a little belated, but congratulations on your book Prologue for the Age of Consequence. It is intensely, darkly beautiful, and can leave one quite staggered at times. Obviously the book draws a lot from your experiences in the tar sands, the oil patches of Alberta. Having worked there myself, and as another creative person, I related quite fully. But I also had questions. Did these poems start coming to you unexpectedly while you were already ensconced in that world, or did you have an idea that a project like this would emerge beforehand? Perhaps discussing what led you to seek work out there in the first place, and the alternating experiences living up there and living in Victoria.

Thanks, Patrick. That’s kind of you. In 2006, I was working a lookout tower in Lac la Biche under the header of Alberta Wildfire Management, and sharing the gig with a girlfriend. Although losing at cards, killing mosquitoes, and growing paranoid about phantom smoke and stray figures in the birch were all formative experiences, the pay split in half didn’t amount to much. Through a contact in Edmonton I was hired on with a large-scale commercial construction company, and subsequently worked at several job sites up until late 2014. I didn’t anticipate writing about it. I didn’t want to. A few years later, after an especially exhausting stint in construction, I wrote a prose poem in the voice of a labourer. Soon I had the terrain for a unified manuscript. In tandem I read Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and The Divine Comedy, which shaped certain choices at an early stage.

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Francesca Lia Block

c307e2cf505fbd4b585b1f26101f17fb_400x400Interviewed by Genevieve Michaels

The work of California-based writer Francesca Lia Block creates its own universe: a dreamy, gorgeous parallel reality that blends magic and danger to haunting effect. Among her many remarkable books is the Weetzie Bat series. The series was collected in the omnibus Dangerous Angels, which The New York Times called “transcendent” and Buzzfeed referred to as “a quintessential book of the 90s.” Block is a recipient of the Spectrum Award, the Phoenix Award, the ALA Rainbow Award, and the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a gifted teacher, which is no surprise – her warm, empathetic nature is evident in her compassionate treatment of both her readers and characters. I first came into contact with Block as a fan, when I sent her a piece of my writing in 2014. To my surprise, she responded  with thoughtful comments, and we have kept in touch ever since. In fact, I think of her as my virtual fairy godmother.

Weetzie Bat is a cult classic. What is the experience of being the author of such a well-loved book? Does it in any way “overshadow” the rest of your books? Is it still your most popular book, or do younger fans tend to start off with your newer works?   

Yes, it does overshadow everything! Usually when I meet a new person, they know all about Weetzie but aren’t familiar with much of my other work.  It can be frustrating. My fan base is definitely older now and those are the readers I’m in touch with so I don’t know what books of mine the younger ones are reading. In terms of sales, currently, Weetzie Bat, Dangerous Angels and Girl Goddess are my most popular, in that order. I really want people to take a look at The Elementals. It’s an adult book published by St Martin’s and I think it’s one of my strongest novels.

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