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…]

Ian Williams

ian-williams-author-photo_0Interviewed by Jennifer Spruit

Ian Williams is the author of Personals, shortlisted for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award; Not Anyone’s Anything, winner of the 2011 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada; and You Know Who You Are, a finalist for the ReLit Prize for poetry. He was named as one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC.

Not only does Ian write short stories packed with the power of precision and disarming poetry that holds our very us-ness up to the glare as it is refracted back, he’s also working on a novel I’m eagerly anticipating.

I’ve been an admirer of Ian’s writing for some time, and have especially enjoyed his blog, on which I found out he’s a man who prefers a well-dressed serif font. Ian was kind enough to chat with me via email.

Your short story collection, Not Anyone’s Anything, includes simultaneous narrators, flashcards, and a story with a basement. How do you, as a writer, balance reader experience and expectations for how to approach a text with a desire to create something original?

Each story needs a feature that’s formally interesting. If I wrote “While” and “Not Anyone’s Anything” and “Break-In” with the good manners of Dickens, say, then they would be frustrated stories in hand-me-downs. Formal play doesn’t have to be spatial or wild but it should be jagged enough to snag the reader away from all of the smooth prose of emails, advertising, and websites. While writing Not Anyone’s Anything, I kept asking myself, Why must this be a story and not a film or a song or a cake? And the answer led to all sorts of textual exploitations: because your attention cannot be on you and the one you love without one of you disappearing, because there are other literacies apart from English, because people who live in basements are often footnoted.

Trying to be original is like trying to be cool.

[Read more…]

Melanie Little

MelanieLittleInterview by Kari Lund-Teigen

Melanie Little is an award-winning author and editor. Her debut collection of stories, Confidence, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award and selected as a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book. Her 2008 novel-in-verse for young adults, The Apprentice’s Masterpiece, was a Canadian Library Association Honour Book, a gold medalist at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and a White Raven selection for the International Youth Library in Munich.

She began her career as an editor by bringing Freehand Press to national prominence in its first year with the Giller-prize finalist Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott. Of Melanie Little as an editor, Endicott has said “she brings a truly ridiculous diligence to any task she undertakes.” After teaching creative writing at Dalhousie, Little returned to editing as the editor-at-large for Annick Press before becoming the senior editor of Canadian fiction at House of Anansi Press.

I wrote to Melanie to request an interview, mentioning a long-ago talk we’d had while she was the writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary. In that meeting, she was exceedingly kind and encouraging. That moment of encouragement meant a lot to me, and I wondered, as I often do, not how writers begin, but how they continue.

Little recently stepped down as senior fiction editor at House of Anansi Press to devote more time to her own writing. She graciously agreed to the interview (preferring, as I think many writers do, to conduct it via email). I sent her a list of questions, telling her to ignore those that were not interesting to her or that she did not feel like answering. True to form, she answered them all, with generosity and depth. [Read more…]

Matt Bell

Matt BellInterview by Kristina Born

Matt Bell is the author of How They Were Found, a collection of short fiction, Cataclysm Baby, a novella, as well as three chapbooks: Wolf Parts, The Collectors, and How the Broken Lead the Blind. He teaches creative writing at Northern Michigan University, and is the senior editor at Dzanc Books, where he also runs The Collagist, a literary magazine. Matt’s debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, will be published by Soho Press in June 2013.

I spoke to Matt over email.

Can you talk a bit about growing up in Michigan? Were you bookish as a child? In your early years, did you read anything that was particularly influential?

I grew up in a small town called Hemlock, about two hours north of Detroit, out in the country but close to a couple of medium-sized cities: I lived there into my early twenties, then moved to the nearby city of Saginaw for a few years before my wife and I moved to Ann Arbor for her to start her PhD at Michigan. I was a pretty prolific reader as a kid—my brother and I both read a lot, and read most books together, one after the other—and a lot of books come to mind when I think of reading before and during my teens: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were of course both big draws, and maybe the first “adult” books I read. Out of all the Isaac Asimov I read then, I think I started with Robots and Empire and kept coming back to it. I read a lot of fantasy novels—David Eddings was a favorite as a teenager, as were the many Dungeons & Dragons novels out there, especially those by R.A. Salvatore, Troy Denning, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Choose Your Own Adventure-style books were favorites for a long time, and mirrored my interest in the Infocom text adventures I played on the computer: with D&D, those were my first experiences with malleable narratives, with creating story by making choices. I can also remember being given Steinbeck’s The Red Pony really early and being sort of entranced by it—I was young enough that I can remember sitting at a desk in front of my grandpa’s VIC-20 computer and reading that book, so who knows how long ago that was. And then in the sixth or seventh grade I started reading Stephen King end to end—The Dark Tower books were my favorite books of his then, and still are—plus people like Dean Koontz, John Grisham, and so on. I read mostly that kind of stuff until after I dropped out of college for the first time—around nineteen?—and then I had a brief flirtation with the Beats before I found Kurt Vonnegut, before an interview with Chuck Palahniuk in Poets and Writers led me to Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel, and (most importantly) Denis Johnson. [Read more…]

Lee Henderson

Lee HendersonInterview by Anita Bedell

Lee Henderson is a Canadian writer and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He has published two award-winning books with Penguin Canada — the short story collection The Broken Record Technique and the novel The Man Game, which won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the BC Book Prize and the Vancouver Book Prize in 2009. Lee’s fiction and art writing is regularly published in The Walrus and Border Crossings magazine; other short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. He has curated exhibitions of contemporary art and experimental music.

Prior to moving to Victoria, Lee taught Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I was fortunate to have Lee as my fiction teacher at UBC during my first year there. His feedback was always insightful and I especially liked the cartoons he drew on my stories—I’ve kept them all.

I welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with one of my favourite teachers for this interview.

When you were little, did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I loved making up stories, for sure, but for most of my childhood and adolescence I wanted to be a cartoonist. [Read more…]