Tetsuro Shigematsu

KamilaInterviewed by Kamila Sediego

Tetsuro Shigematsu has done almost everything. He is or once was: a playwright, a TV writer for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and host of CBC Radio’s The Roundup. He has also worked as a stand up comedian, filmmaker, actor (once with George Takei), Huffington Post columnist, samurai descendent and in-house expert for the MTV/SpikeTV show, Deadliest Warrior, TedTalk presenter, and MC/host/presenter for numerous organizations, festivals, and events across Canada. He wrote his play, Rising Son, an autobiographical one-person show about his relationship with his father, when he was 23 and performed it in cities around the world. The sequel to that play, Empire of the Son will have its world premiere at The Cultch in October of 2015. He is a Vanier scholar and current PhD student at UBC, examining the intersection of race and social media.

Shigematsu also acts as the Artist-in-Residence for Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, and was a member of the selection committee for 2015’s MSG Theatre Lab. It was through this opportunity that I got to meet Shigematsu. We talked over the phone about advice, some of the worries emerging writers face, and being an Asian-Canadian writer.

How did you begin this cross-genre career of yours?

I went to art school in college and did my undergrad in fine arts, but the feedback I continuously got from my profs was that the explanations I gave for my artwork were actually more successful than the art pieces themselves. In other words: my artwork wasn’t that good but I should keep talking. At my profs’ encouragement, in lieu of bringing in finished artwork, I would just talk about what happened with my family over the weekend.

Some of these stories were painful to share but I found it therapeutic. What was surprising was that my classmates were laughing a lot. Doing self-reportage and monologues about my personal life was the beginning of my particular practice. I didn’t have any intention of taking it further until I met the couple renting my sister’s place in Montreal. The man was Paul Dervis, who at the time was the artistic director of 21st Century Theatre. After hearing my artsy monologues he said to me, “I’ll tell you what. You’re Japanese. Let’s do a show about that.” That became Rising Son.

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Jan Wong

IMG_0343-EditInterviewed by Stephanie Kelly

Jan Wong has been living off her words for the past four decades. The Montreal-born journalist majored in Asian studies at McGill University and at 19 moved to China, becoming the first Westerner to study there during the country’s Cultural Revolution, an experience that became the subject of her first book Red China Blues. Wong has been a news reporter, columnist and author, with her byline appearing in some of North America’s most prestigious publications, including the New York Times and the Globe and Mail. In 2006, Wong’s life–both personal and professional– took a dramatic turn. Her story about a shooting at Dawson College in Montreal sparked controversy, leading to a strong backlash from readers, which resulted in her being fired from the Globe. This event led to a long lawsuit between Wong and her former employer, eventually leading her into depression, a story she tells in her most recent book Out of the Blue.

Wong is currently a columnist for the Halifax-based newspaper The Chronicle Herald. She is also a journalism instructor at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. I was part of Wong’s first class at St. Thomas and will never forget her lectures where she taught us the importance of asking hard questions, finding strong characters, and knowing the subtle but very real difference between percent and percentage points.

Take me back to the time when you first considered writing as a career path.

I guess it was when I was in my 20s and I was still in China. I had gone to China as an undergrad and then a graduate student and I think I began to look at writing as a job once I finished at Peking University and got a job in Hong Kong working on a magazine. It was a start-up and it didn’t last very long. The magazine folded I think in a year and then I came back to Beijing and got a job at the New York Times. That was the period when I thought it was possible to do this for a living.

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Elaine Woo

Elaine WooInterviewed by Yilin Wang

Elaine Woo is a Vancouver-based poet, librettist, and non-fiction writer. Cycling with the Dragon, her debut poetry collection, was published by Nightwood Editions in 2014 and recently nominated for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness. Her writing has also appeared in ARC Poetry Magazine, carte blanche, Ricepaper Magazine, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her art song collaboration with Daniel Marshall, “Night-time Symphony,” won a festival prize in Boston Metro Opera’s International Composers’ Competition. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from UBC and has taught workshops for Megaphone Magazine and the Historic Joy Kagawa House. http://www.elainespath.org

I first met Elaine at the launch of Ricepaper Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2012 special double issue featuring Aboriginal and Asian Canadian writers. We both read at the launch, and since then, I have had the pleasure of listening to her read at many other events. Her writing explores marginalized voices, race, gender, family dynamics, and the creative process with raw emotion and experimental language. I corresponded with Elaine via email to discuss her inspiration, the publication of her first book, and her thoughts on a writer’s social responsibility.

What inspired you to first begin writing?

Creativity is my calling: I’ve always been creative, drawing prolifically as a child until my late teens. My twenties and thirties were fallow years, devoted to schooling in experimental psychology and working as a clerk/secretary. The psychology I studied had nothing to do with the soul, much to my disappointment. By mid-life, I had a lot of stories stored up inside. In 2006, when a couple of friends suggested I take up writing, I signed up for a credited creative writing course at Capilano College (before it became a university) and that was the start of my becoming actualized and whole again. Writing gave me everything to do with the intellectual, social, philosophical, and spiritual in the 21st century. [Read more…]

Mohsin Hamid

hamidInterviewed by Rumnique Nannar

Mohsin Hamid would prefer that you to call him a “nomadic novelist.” Hamid is the author of Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, but each of these novels were written in between continents. Hamid summoned his memories of 1990s Pakistan in Princeton, conjured up a post-9/11 New York in London, and shaded in an unknown metropolis while in Pakistan. His latest book Discontent & Its Civilizations is a collection of essays that touch on Islamophobia, travel, and global politics.

Hamid’s writing is consistently stylish and daring as he breaks down the boundaries between reader and story. Whether it is the dramatic monologue in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a breakout book that hit the New York Times’ bestseller list, or the second-person narration in Filthy Rich, Hamid’s novels involve the reader in its narrative. We chatted over Skype about his journey as a writer, father, and even his favourite TV shows. (Spoiler alert for GoT fans!)

How did you start or decide to become a writer?

As a little kid, I was a big reader. I probably started with comic books and children’s stories, and then kept reading throughout my childhood and teens. I’m also quite a fantasist, so I would imagine countries and I loved atlases. I used to imagine little countries where no countries existed, and I was into Dungeons and Dragons as a kid (laughs). All of these things, in a way, were a real absorption into storytelling. When I went to university in the States, Princeton had a wonderful creative writing program with Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. I remember applying for one of the first creative writing workshops and getting in, and starting to write stories for them. Very quickly I realized that this was what I loved to do. So it was in university for the first time that I thought, I would like to be a professional writer. [Read more…]