Five Questions with Mary Jennifer Payne

payne-finding-jade

Mary Jennifer Payne’s writing has been published in journals, anthologies, and magazines in Canada and abroad. She is the author of several YA graphic novels and the YA novel Since You’ve Been Gone. She teaches special education with the Toronto District School Board and lives in Toronto.

Join us as we celebrate her new work at Toronto Lit Up on December 14.

IFOA:  Finding Jade is part of the Daughters of Light fantasy series. What are some of the themes you want to explore in the trilogy?

Mary Jennifer: Some of the themes I wanted to explore in the Daughters of Light series are very much grounded in reality and in our contemporary world. Perhaps the most pressing theme concerns the ravaging of our planet and the impact of that on our daily lives and on global human rights. As the series continues, the theme of “othering”, and the corrupting nature or power become more dominant. There are many themes pertinent to teens in Finding Jade, some of these include: living with a single parent with chronic illness, bullying, and the trials and tribulations of young love. I also wanted to re-frame some of the traditional, gendered narratives about leadership and mainstream ideas about “superhero” protagonists as they are largely male-centric.

IFOA:  Finding Jade transports the reader to 2030. How have you imagined our future? Why?

Mary Jennifer: Initially, the series was set at a later date around 2050. However, it became apparent, as I went through the final revisions of Finding Jade, that climate change was rapidly intensifying, and that precipitated the need for the series to be set closer to our contemporary times. The Arab Spring uprisings were in their infancy when I began writing the series about five years ago, and, as such, the tragedy of the Syrian war and the subsequent refugee crisis were not even on the horizon. I based many of the climate change refugee issues and the description of our world in the year 2030 (which- spoiler alert– becomes more important in the series’ later books) on what was happening in Darfur, the rise of demagogue leaders, and the history of internment and/or genocide in places like Canada, Germany, Rwanda, etc. Jasmine lives in a world largely shaped by climate change. In many ways, it parallels are own: countries are closing their borders to refugees fleeing nations ravaged by drought and other environmental disasters, and much of the world is experiencing political, economic and social unrest due to this. Resources are scarce and energy is being conserved due to the warming climate- even in relatively resource-rich Toronto. I think, especially in light of the political and social transformations happening in the US this past year and the increasingly urgent scientific information emerging about the speed at which our global climate is changing, the world I imagined for 2030 appears to be less fictional than ever.

IFOA:  You have published graphic novels for young adults. Why did you use this medium to tell the story?

Mary Jennifer: I’ve published both graphic and traditional novels and novellas. The Daughters of Light series just seemed to fit the novel format, but it could definitely also translate into a graphic structure. Honestly, I’d love to see it on the big screen someday!

IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?

payne-mary-jenniferMary Jennifer: The inspiration for this series came from so many different things. Most of the time, the germ of a story comes from my students, and the Daughters of Light series is no different. However, for the trilogy, I also was inspired by a plethora of ideas: the growing threat of climate change and the dismissal of this by certain politicians and special interest groups; Santerian beliefs about twins; by Christian and Islamic texts about the end of time; the need for more female superheroes, especially diverse superheroes, and the way in which our world has historically treated refugees and the shameful practice of “othering”. As my partner can attest, my mind is rarely quiet, except maybe when I am by the ocean.

IFOA:  What are the things you consider when devising young characters?

Mary Jennifer: There’s not a lot I consciously think about when devising my young characters. They kind of just form themselves in my mind. I have the great privilege of spending most of my time with young people, and am always amazed by their intelligence, resilience and courage. The students I teach are often navigating a huge amount of intersectionality in their lives. They inspire and teach me so much, and I could never express my gratitude. I am aware, when writing, that I am a white woman who, though from working-class background, is now pretty firmly middle-class and, thus, I occupy a place of privilege that is not necessarily earned. I try to really reflect on this when developing characters. I’ve always felt that one of my favorite characters, Jermaine, from my first novel, Since You’ve Been Gone, has a further story to tell and that the narrative needs to be set during the London riots of 2011. However, I don’t feel that is my story to tell. Maybe in collaboration, and certainly not in the first-person voice I usually use with my writing. I’d love to tell his story in collaboration with someone like Malorie Blackman. She’s such a consummate YA author.

 

 

 

Five Questions with Chris Hedges

Hedges, Chris

IFOA: Can you tell us a bit more about what you will be discussing at your keynote address: The Price of Truth in Journalism in a Post-Fact World at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference at IFOA?

Chris Hedges: The decline of print as a medium to impart information has given primacy to the image, and therefore the skillful manipulation of emotion.  The electronic mediums that impart images eschew complexity and nuance.  They speak in easily digestible cliches and replace information and fact with entertainment and spectacle. This is the template for all forms of totalitarianism, including our corporate totalitarianism.

IFOA: You currently teach prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. What is your favourite and least favourite part of this role?

Chris Hedges: My favorite part is teaching brilliant students with a deep hunger to learn. My least favorite part is dealing with the prison administration.

IFOA: You speak English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek. Is there another language you would like to learn?

Chris Hedges: Russian.

IFOA: Can you describe your time as a foreign correspondent in fewer than 10 words?

Chris Hedges: A study in human depravity and violence.

IFOA: Foreign correspondent, author, professor, ordained minister. What’s next for you?

Chris Hedges: That’s enough.

 

See Chris Hedges deliver the keynote address at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference.

Get your tickets here.

5 Questions with Naomi Guttman

Guttman, Naomi

IFOA: Where did you draw inspiration from to write your latest collection?

Naomi: I spent a brief time in my twenties studying music, for which I had very little talent. They say that for writers all experience is grist, so I guess that the beginnings of writing about music and musicians go back to that time. I’ve always been interested in food and in the past dozen years as I’ve created courses on food and participated in conferences on food, I’ve met a wide array of people who are also interested in food, with eating it, researching it, and writing about it.

Needless to say, those of us obsessed with food are in many ways hedonists, and Donny is a character who embodies the Dionysian qualities that stress life’s sensory pleasures, including food. You might say that I created Ari as an ascetic counterweight. Their “opera,” or song, is a conversation I have with myself every day: do I indulge in the pleasures of the world as they are given to me, especially those of food, or do I choose restraint in the recognition that the planet’s resources are in fact dwindling under population and environmental pressures?

IFOA: What is your writing process?

Naomi: It’s very slow. With this book I began by setting myself the goal of writing prosy blocks of poetry, 10 lines per poem. At first I wanted to capture each character’s point of view, via an omniscient narrative voice. Because I wanted to tell a story, eventually I had to figure out how to create more dramatic poems rather than simply meditative ones. I also realized that I wanted to do more formal experimentation, and that took some time to develop. I teach, so the book was written in fits and starts, mostly over summers. I’d say it took about 4 years to complete the manuscript, and another year or so to polish it.

IFOA: If you could collaborate with any writer, who would it be and why?

Naomi: I’d love to collaborate with a composer and a librettist, perhaps using “Donny & Ari” as the basis of a contemporary opera. I’m also very interested in the personal documentary and would love to collaborate with Alan Berliner, or someone like that. But most writers are solitary types, so it’s hard to imagine it happening.

IFOA: What are some of the subjects aspiring authors explore in your creative writing classes? Do you have advice for them about finding inspiration?

Naomi: Young people, naturally, gravitate to writing about what they know. I often begin a course with childhood memories, important places, and dreams as sources for their writing (I have them read Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”); at the same time, I want them to turn the usual advice on its head: as the writer Brett Lott said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” I ask students to consider the mystery, the gaps between what they think they know and what they actually know.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Naomi: I’m working on a personal documentary in video. I don’t know that it will ever be of a quality that I’d want to show the world, but I’m enjoying the exercise of putting visual material, recorded voices, and music in relationship to one another. I’m also working on some personal essays. I’m still writing poems, but I haven’t zeroed in on collecting a new manuscript, though I believe that if I looked at my notebooks, I might be able to see the beginnings of another volume of poems.

 

See Naomi read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Carolyn Smart

Smart, Carolyn

IFOA: What inspired you to write Careen?

Carolyn: For the past few years I have been interested in writing the unrevealed truths behind certain historical figures. Reading a recent biography of the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, I learned that their lasting fame was based on one set of staged photographs left behind in a getaway, and a 1967 Arthur Penn film that to a large degree invented their story. I was drawn to tell the more realistic tale: the hardscrabble existence of two young people with absolutely nothing to lose in Depression-era Texas, an area and time with which I have a personal connection: my maternal grandfather was a failed gun-runner who died in penury in Laredo.

IFOA: What is the hardest part about writing poetry that resembles dialogue?

Carolyn: I wanted the poems to have recognizable and distinct voices, to be revealing information but also working as rhythmic language; I wanted lyricism and narrative linked. And for this book I took the leap to write in dialect, which to me felt revolutionary.

IFOA: What piece of advice do you give to aspiring authors in your creative writing classes?

Carolyn: I encourage emerging writers to avoid self-censorship, to edit thoroughly, and to remember why you write: because you love it.

IFOA: What are you reading now?

Carolyn: I am reading “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” by Eileen Myles, also “Speedboat” by Renata Adler. I just finished “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong and “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Carolyn: I’m writing poems about all kinds of different things, in lots of different forms. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’m open to anything.

 

See Carolyn read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Matt Rader

Matt Rader, the author of Desecrations, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered our five questions.

©Ron Pogue

 IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.

Matt: This is a collection celebrating in the ruins, listening for music in a room of silent instruments. It has a heavy title and the poems sometimes try to look dark places in the eye–colonialism, failing health, banishment–but these are mostly love poems, the kind of love that persists when there’s no longer any reason to love except that you want to.

IFOA: You’re an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, as well. Have you found teaching creative writing has affected your own writing at all?

Matt: I’m constantly humbled by the brilliance, fearlessness, and vigour of the people I encounter in my work. Trying to support other people to develop their relationship with their own imagination is baffling and mind-blowing. It has given me an even deeper and more profound respect for my teachers. I hope it has made my writing more open. These answers feel a little more ethereal than I intend them.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Matt: Michael Longley and Larry Levis have been twin influences throughout the writing of these poems. Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks are two others I return to again and again. Everyone in Canada should read Russell Thornton. Maggie Nelson changed my life.

IFOA: Where is your ideal place to write?

Matt: I don’t have an ideal place: it depends on the project. Some of Desecrations was written in a farmhouse in the Irish Midlands and I loved it because I woke in the morning, made coffee, wrote, read, walked the fields, and talk to no one.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Matt: It’s too early to tell.  As Frank O’Hara, one of the resident ghosts of Desecrations, once wrote: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.”

 

Page 1 of 3112345...102030...Last »