Five Questions with… Yan Li

Yan Li, author of Lily in the Snow and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Yan on October 26, as well as a copy of Lily in the Snow! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: As a bilingual writer, how do you decide which language you will initially publish a novel in?

Yan Li: I had never thought about writing a novel until I came to Canada. As the first graduate student from China ever admitted by the History Department at the University of Windsor in 1987, I received a lot of attention since many people were curious about China. A year later, I decided to write a book in English that would give a truthful reflection of life in China in the 20th century from an insider’s point of view. My first novel was an unexpected success and totally changed my life in Canada. A few years later, when I noticed increasing numbers of Chinese immigrants coming into Canada and that people back home were interested in knowing their life in a new country, I decided to write a novel in Chinese for readers in China. Married to the West Wind became my first novel written in Chinese.

© Xu Chunying

© Xu Chunying

IFOA: What are some benefits/difficulties of translating your own work?

Li: I very much enjoy the process of translating my own works from English into Chinese, or vice versa. I can see the differences in expressions and choices of words, and tailor materials accordingly, based on my understanding of both cultures, to approach readability, efficiency and aesthetic results, valued in different languages. I don’t feel it is a good idea to translate literature word for word and line for line. The best can be produced through a rewrite. However, not many people are willing to have their original work rewritten by someone else. I am lucky to have the ability to handle both languages in my creative writing. So far, I have not experienced any difficulties.

IFOA: Do you write for audiences of a certain age or culture?

Li: I never pay attention to generational gaps, since I don’t write for money but for faith. I believe that good literary works will last in history, whether they are bestsellers or not. The purpose of my writing is simple. The world around us is imperfect but our writing, ideally, may change it for the better. Human natures and values are the same, but different languages and cultures separate and isolate them. I hope I can use my pen to help erase prejudices and misunderstandings.

Li, Lily in the SnowIFOA: What role do literature, writing and journalism play in Lily in the Snow?

Li: My academic training comes from three fields: language and literature, journalism and history. I tend to mix up those influences in my creative writing. When I wrote my first English novel, Daughters of the Red Land, my style was very much limited by my training in journalism and history and it was difficult to allow my mind to flow freely outside the boundary of truth and facts, which are crucial for news writing. God knows if that actually helped the novel to be successful because it was so true to human nature and the real world. When I wrote Lily in the Snow, I had gradually become used to a more creative style since I had published some novels in Chinese by that time. Although Lily in the Snow is more fictionalized, it is a product obviously influenced by my academic training, with many stories based on truth and facts. I think I have developed a writing style, in English or Chinese, that portrays fictional characters very closely to real life. I believe it is a pity for the writer if her characters and stories sound fake and unreal.

IFOA: What have you read in the past six months that you really loved?

Li: For the past 20 years, most English novels I have read are those that have a connection to China or the Chinese. I very much enjoy reading Chinese language books reflecting life in today’s China. Some works by short story writers like Liu Qingbang and Wang Xiangfu are very well written and impressive, showing the Chinese society estranged from what I used to know.

Yan Li is the director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Waterloo and the coordinator of the Chinese language programme at Renison University College. She presents her latest novel, Lily in the Snow, which provides a unique perspective on the universal tale of intergenerational conflict, and explores the Chinese immigrant experience in Canada with humour and insight. Catch her at China@IFOA on October 26.

Five Questions with… Gary Geddes

Gary Geddes, author of What Does a House Want? and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Gary on October 26, as well as a copy of What Does a House Want?, his latest collection of poetry! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Can you describe your poetic process for our readers?

Gary Geddes: I like Karl Shapiro’s notion that poetry is not just a way of saying things, but a way of seeing things, because it reminds me that there’s a poet in all of us, a part that looks for what is deep and essential in daily experience. I use my skill with words to connect with those who share this gift of poetic insight. I keep my antennae tuned to what is happening around me at the local, national and international level, events that touch me emotionally, morally and politically. Some of these signals refuse to go away, so I try to find a way to give them imaginative shape. That’s when the real challenge begins, the struggle to transform feelings into words, and when knowledge of craft becomes so useful. Language is a transforming medium, like passing white light through a prism; the end-product is always different from what you expect and intend.

IFOA: You’re currently on a cross-country book tour with your wife, the author Ann Eriksson. How do you influence each other as writers?

© Ann Eriksson

© Ann Eriksson

Geddes: Ann takes the writing of novels seriously, which means that we both know what it’s like to be caught up in the excitement and challenge of a new work-in-progress and how much time is required to produce something worthwhile and lasting. When you respect your partner’s commitment, the sharing of cooking, shopping, house cleaning, et cetera becomes part of the package. So, too, does providing or receiving unexpectedly a cup of tea on the writing table, delivered with a silent smile and, if you’re lucky, a kiss. Ann and I read each other’s work and hope to be able to offer constructive criticism along with moral support, given in small doses during long walks, warm-ups for tai chi in the morning or while kayaking for the mail in the afternoon. As a biologist, Ann is informed and alert to what is happening with the environment and very pro-active, two influences I welcome.

IFOA: Are there particular poets whose writing you are influenced by, or whom you see yourself writing in the same literary tradition as?

Geddes: Early in my career, I was given the opportunity to edit two major poetry anthologies for Oxford University Press. This required shifting into high gear and not only reading the entire works of about two hundred poets, but also selecting a few of their best poems and trying to articulate why they were so good. Many of my favourite poets can be found in the various editions of 20th-Century Poets and Poetics and 15 Canadian Poets.

Teaching was another plus for me as a poet because it forced me to be reading, analyzing and commenting on what I read. Of course, there were specific poets along the way whose work had a more than minor impact on me: Auden, Neruda, Elizabeth Bishop, Edgar Lee Masters, Michael Ondaatje, Pat Lowther, Bronwen Wallace, to name only a few. I love the long poem and poetic narrative and find I’m drawn most often to larger canvases, book-length poems and sequences where anything can happen and where both story and song contend for my attention. I’m a sponge, soaking up as much information about craft as I can from a host of poets. And there’s always more to be learned.

Geddes, What Does a House WantIFOA: What are you working on now?

Geddes: I’m working on a non-fiction book about the links between Canada’s notorious residential schools and segregated Indian hospitals, where forced sterilizations took place, along with gratuitous drug and surgical experiments and electric shock treatment designed to destroy the short-term memory of sexual abuse. This involves reading a lot and interviewing elders across the country, who are graciously sharing their stories with me. I’m also working on a new poetry manuscript that, so far, includes a narrative-poem-in-progress and a couple of poem-sequences, one about my mother, Irene Turner, who died of cancer when she was only 35, and another called “On Being Dead in Venice,” which includes poems about Pound, Brodsky, Diaghilev and Stravinsky.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It’s hard to believe, but….

Geddes: It’s hard to believe, but writers seem willing to run off at the mouth at the slightest opportunity. Poets are the worst. A cynic once observed that the rewards for poetry are so few, poets will kill for them. I have my doubts about that. They’re more likely to give you an earful, hopefully words so subtly arranged and evocative that they nest in the ear and make their way into the bone marrow. As Robert Hass reminds us, “Because rhythm has access to the unconscious, because it can hypnotize us, enter our bodies and make us move, it is a power. And power is political.”

Gary Geddes has written and edited more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama and criticism. Geddes will read from his latest poetry collection, What Does a House Want?, a polished and cinematographic take on numerous ideas from Israeli-Palestinian violence to the reputation of Ezra Pound.


Five Questions with… Andrej Blatnik

Andrej Blatnik, author of Law of Desire and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Andrej on October 25, as well as a copy of Law of Desire! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What is it about the short story form that is attractive to you?

Blatnik, AndrejAndrej Blatnik: With the short story there’s no fooling around. Every mistake a writer makes is immediately visible. The story has to move in limited space and has no time to lose. And the reader has more space to fill with his or her own reflection or imagination—which is maybe the very reason that the novel is a more popular genre.

IFOA: How has your writing changed over time?

Blatnik: It became more condensed and yet more open to the reality outside of the text. I started writing in the early 80s when life in my country, Slovenia, was different: there were lots of subjects you couldn’t speak of, lots of questions you couldn’t ask. Literature was a chance to express things that couldn’t be expressed otherwise, and for a young person, it was an escape to an area where everything could be arranged according to your wishes. Some books were read at that time for reasons other than literary; they expressed alternative versions of history, alternative political ideas, etc. These times are gone, and while literature retained its absolute freedom of creation (especially if the writer is not occupied with the possibilities of publication and success!), it has lost its former social impact.

Blatnik, Law of DesireIFOA: You have also worked as a translator. Is there a specific book that you would love to translate?

Blatnik: I’d love to translate a book of selected stories by Lydia Davis, concentrating on her shortest stories. I have a book of 50 stories no more than one page long, and when it was published in English (You Do Understand), quite a few people suggested I should have a look at her work—I did and I was immediately hooked.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Blatnik: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.

IFOA:Finish this sentence: It’s hard to believe, but…

Blatnik: …believing is hard nowadays.

Andrej Blatnik is a writer of both fiction and criticism. He has also worked as a translator, translating the work of Paul Bowes, among others. Join him on October 25 alongside other international authors as they discuss how the translation of their work into English has unlocked a universal audience that was unattainable in their native language.

Five Questions with… Julie Joosten

Julie Joosten, an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions! She is the author of Light Light, which was recently announced as a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Julie on October 25, as well as a copy of Light Light! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: How has your poetic focus on nature developed? Why do you look to nature?Joosten, Julie

Julie Joosten: My interest in nature emerged out of fascination with thought and modes of attention. I found myself absorbed in the thinking of writers, scientists, artists and philosophers who, however obliquely, were exploring forms of attending to various objects, affects, processes and perceptions, and I discovered that the modes I was most excited by—self-forgetful, meditative modes that also supported rigorous thinking—often engaged with the natural world. My own thinking has been deeply influenced by the distinct and simultaneous temporalities and rhythms of the non-human world.

IFOA: What has been your most unlikely or unusual source of inspiration?

Joosten: Perhaps my most unusual source of inspiration is also one of my most mundane—it’s the rhythm I’ve established with my dogs. They get me out and walking twice a day for long stretches of time in all weather. Repetition, duration, variation. They also attend to different forms outside than I do, and occasionally our perceptions overlap, though we regularly have opposite responses to the objects of our attentions (especially squirrels and cats); this awareness of various “worlds” existing through distinct perceptual abilities and practices has been exciting and confounding and pleasurable to think and write about.

Joosten, Light LightIFOA: When and where do you write?

Joosten: I write at home at a desk I picked out when I was ten. It’s monstrous and offers a large gathering space for books and papers.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Joosten: I’m working on some poems and essays. And reading.

IFOA: Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

Joosten: Read. Reread. Repeat.



Julie Joosten has an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD from Cornell University. She presents her first book of poetry, Light Light, alongside other poets for the Festival’s Poet Summit.

Five Questions with… Robin Stevenson

Robin Stevenson, author of Record Breaker and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to see Robin on October 23, as well as a copy of Record Breaker! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Do you find it difficult to write such heavy subject matter into your stories for young readers?

Robin Stevenson: No, not really. My imagination has a tendency to go to rather dark places, and writing fiction is a good way to explore them. I hadn’t really thought of Record Breaker as particularly heavy though. I tried to balance the serious stuff with lots of humour.Stevenson, Robin

Actually, this is kind of the same question I used to get asked when I was a social worker: Do you find it hard to deal with such difficult issues every day? And my answer’s really the same too. When you work with people who are going through hard times, you see their strength and resilience. You see that there is always hope and that life goes on. I think this is the same perspective I have when I create fictional characters in challenging situations: usually they surprise and impress me with their resourcefulness.

So I don’t mind heavy subject matter, but I don’t think I could write a book where there was no hope. That just isn’t how I see the world.

IFOA: Where did the idea for a protagonist obsessed with breaking records come from?

Stevenson: When I was 10 or so, I went through a phase of poring over The Guinness Book of World Records and attempting to stand on my head or hold my breath for a really long time. With no success, sadly. But that’s probably where the idea came from. I think when my son was seven or so we were looking at The Guinness Book of World Records together (that guy with the crazy long fingernails!) and I remembered my childhood love of that book. The idea of writing about a boy obsessed with breaking a record arrived soon after that.

IFOA: Why did you choose to incorporate important historical events into Record Breaker?

Stevenson, Record BreakerStevenson: I’m not sure where that idea came from, to be honest. I often get curious about things I stumble across, and I’ll start reading about them and thinking about them, not necessarily with any intent of using them in a book, just because I’m interested. And some of them are passing interests and others seem to linger in the back of my mind. Sooner or later, two or three ideas somehow stick themselves together and start to grow into a story.

With Record Breaker, the idea of a kid obsessed with breaking a record managed to stick itself first to the 1960s, and to what was known then as crib death, and then to the Kennedy assassination. There wasn’t a logical reason for itit just felt right. I enjoyed doing the research though, and I thought the events of the early 60s made a great back drop for the story.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Stevenson: I’m currently reading too many books at once, as I tend to do: Ken Setterington’s Branded by the Pink Triangle; Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson; a murder mystery by Elly Griffith; and a collection of interviews and essays about unschooling, called Natural Born Learners. Plus I’m reading the Redwall series aloud to my son.

IFOA: Name one book that has made a lasting impression on you.

Stevenson: As a child, I fell in love with L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon. It was one of the books that made me want to be a writer.

Robin Stevenson is the author of more than a dozen books for children and teens. Her work has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Literary Award, and she is the winner of this year’s Forest of Reading® Silver Birch® Fiction Award. See her at her upcoming YoungIFOA event, which offers students from grades 3 to 8 the opportunity to meet authors through readings and Q&A sessions.

Page 4 of 6« First...23456