Thursday afternoon, I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to hear the author of Salt Fish Girl, Larissa Lai, read at St. Jerome’s University. Also reading was Rita Wong, with whom Lai wrote Sibyl Unrest. Lai read from one of her newest works, which I understand is about a post-apocalyptic feminist utopia of sorts – though it is not without problems. Wong read portions of a poem on roundhouse dancing and protests, noting in her introduction that the Idle No More movement was “by and for” First Nations people, but inclusive of all. They both read from Sibyl Unrest.
The entirety of the event was engaging and inspiring, but I’ll focus on selected questions and answers from the session at the end. Here are my notes:
One question regarded Wong’s comments on water – how it is roughly 2/3 of the body as well as the earth, and she is interested in how the watershed becomes a part of our body. Expanding on her fascination with water, she recommended Alanna Mitchell’s Sea Sick, and also that she recently taught a Humanities course on water. That is a class I would be interested in taking!
Lai’s reading clearly encompassed both parthenogenesis and embodied memory, so I asked if she might speak more on those two concepts – particularly given that they are prominent in Salt Fish Girl, and as to why they recur in her newer work. Lai answered that it was a “return to 1970’s feminist writing … Ursula Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Octavia E. Butler,” but also that she is interested in “lesbian separatist movements” in response to an “often violent,” 1950’s like “return of focus on heterosexual, nuclear family” and heterosexual notions of reproduction. I eagerly await this new work.
Another participant wanted to know what Lai and Wong enjoy reading. Among the authors and titles they mentioned were Dionne Brand, Salman Rushdie, Leeann Simpson, The Stone Collection, Lee Maracle’s Memory Serves and Talking to the Diaspora, and A Blanket of Butterflies.
Finally, a couple of attendees asked about Lai’s and Wong’s writing, collaboration, and editing processes. Lai and Wong discussed their collaboration being born out of the “antriracist cultural movement” of the late 80’s and early 90’s, conversations with other writers, how there is “no writing self …you’re just a vessel.” The editing process, Lai noted is sometimes challenging, with her most recent book in its seventh iteration. She said “cut and paste” is “artificial,” that you need to “do it again” and “read it aloud.”Moreover, she recommended, don’t write only when you are inspired, but all the time, which reminds me of Butler’s advice: “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable.”
When one participant asked if they were ever humbled by other writers, Lai said, she doesn’t know how any “writer … holds what they hold, and manages to get it to the page.” Wong shared a story about being a very quiet, shy student, and Fred Wah challenging her to speak up in class: It was “really risky, but worked … broke internalized insecurities.” For me, as an introvert slowly gaining confidence in public speaking, I found Wong’s admissions – as well as the difference between Lai’s speaking voice and reading voice – interesting and encouraging.
I’ll end with this quote: “The next world we are waiting for is already here … we just have to help it along.”
I am a former high school teacher, a current PhD student and professional tutor/editor, and a mom. My passions are higher education, racial equity, LGBTQA advocacy, autism awareness, and conversations around mental health, especially maternal mental health. Please like my tutoring page on Facebook! facebook.com/meghankrileytutoring
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