Intervju z Larisso Lai

Slika je vzeta iz članka Briana Gentesa, Larissa Lai Wins 2020 Jim Duggins, PhD Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize.

Larissa Lai (La Jolla, 1967) je kanadska pisateljica, pesnica in literarna kritičarka. Z odliko je diplomirala iz sociologije na Univerzi Britanske Kolumbije, magistrirala iz angleščine in ameriških študij na Univerzi Vzhodne Anglije ter doktorirala iz angleščine na Univerzi v Calgaryju. Sedem let je bila na oddelku za angleški jezik na Univerzi Britanske Kolumbije, nato pa se je vrnila na Univerzo v Calgaryju in prevzela mesto raziskovalne profesorice na katedri za kreativno pisanje. Tam vodi delavnice kreativnega pisanja Uporni arhitekti (The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing; TIA House), ki se ukvarjajo z interakcijami socialne pravičnosti, prihodnosti in inovativne estetike pri ustvarjalnem pisanju. Larissa Lai je doslej izdala osem knjig, med katerimi sta romana Salt Fish Girl (2002; Dekle Slana Riba) in The Tiger Flu (2018; Tigrova gripa), pesnitev Iron Goddess of Mercy (2021; Železna boginja usmiljenja) in knjižica Eggs in the Basement (2009; Jajca v kleti). Je prejemnica nagrade Jima Dugginsa za avtorico na sredini kariere, literarne nagrade lambda, nagrade astraea in finalistka nagrade za poezijo Dorothy Livesay, prejemnica nagrade za prvi roman Books in Canada ter še sedem drugih; vse od poznih osemdesetih let se je ukvarjala z eksperimentalno poezijo in kulturnim menedžmentom ter sodelovala v skupnosti spekulativne fikcije. Doma se počuti tako v Vancouvru kot v Calgaryju. Motive pogosto črpa iz kitajske mitologije in kulture, s posebnim poudarkom na zgodovinskih in mitoloških ženskih osebnostih. Njeno pisanje povezuje mitološke podobe s fantastičnimi in feminističnimi elementi.


You were born in California and grew up in Canada. How did you get in touch with your roots and the Chinese culture, about which you write a lot in your poetry/novels?

My parents are Chinese, so the culture was always present in our home. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a strong pressure to assimilate to mainstream Canadian culture, of course, and I did not manage to escape that, especially not on the east coast, where there were not a lot of Asian people. In my late teens I moved to the west coast, where there has been a strong Asian presence dating back to the 1700s and the voyages of Captain Meares. In my early 20s, I was lucky enough to be part of a resurgences of Asian artists, writers and activists working to recuperate Asian cultures on the west coast and also to keep them alive by making them anew. My involvement as assistant curator with an exhibition of contemporary media by Asian Canadian artists called Yellow Peril: Reconsidered in 1991 was a really important turning point for me. Since that time, I have devoted my life to recuperating and remaking Asian Canadian and BIPOC cultures in a living, practiced way. Libraries and museums are important to me, but even more important are the gatherings of contemporary practitioners through projects like Primary Colours, Rungh Magazine, and The Insurgent Architects' House for Creative Writing, which I run at the University of Calgary. I believe culture is made by people. One doesn't need to live in China in order to develop Chinese culture. I'm part of it by virtue of being Chinese.

What fascinates you most about mythology, one of the major themes in your literature? How and when did you start to discover mythologies of different cultures?

I embrace mythology as a way of making sense of my life and that of people around me in the present. I liked fairy tales and myths as a child, and never really stopped. I'm not so interested in borrowing the mythologies of different cultures though as embracing the mythologies of my own culture and seeing how I can build relationships with other people through them. I wasn't taught Chinese mythology at school, but my parents gave me books, and I've always been an avid user of the library. I find mythology fascinating because it teaches me a lot about my own psyche and also my relationships to other people.

Your newest work, Iron Goddess of Mercy, masterfully ties different mythological themes with current political issues. What is your writing process, do you initially think of an issue you would like to present, and then write about it in a mythological language, or vice versa?

For Iron Goddess of Mercy, I wasn't thinking so much of issues as addressees-- people and things that I wanted to speak to. Each poem is a letter that unfolds fairly organically, using rhyme or pun as the main vehicles to drive the language forward. It's not surprising, of course, that social issues and mythological language appear in the work, because these are the terms in which I think. Different project however, have different instigating impulses. For The Tiger Flu I wanted to write about a disease that affects men and the affluent more than women and the poor. Salt Fish Girl came from a set of dreams about drowning.

Your style is rich with metaphors and evokes many different emotions. Does this writing style come naturally to you, or does it take a lot of effort?

I would say the writing comes naturally, but it doesn't come all the time. Iron Goddess of Mercy was written quite quickly, over the course of several months. But I couldn't write a book like that every few months! When I am writing, the metaphors, the feelings, the rhythms and juxtapositions just seem to come. It unfolds quickly, or not at all. I tell my students that the key to interesting work is practice. It's no so much that one must exert effort as that one must make regular engagement with one's chosen art, whether it's piano, gymnastics, painting or writing. If you do it all the time it becomes easy. Though what you create on some days will be better than what you create on others.

What would you like a reader to feel while reading your works?

I don't have expectations for what the reader might feel. I understand literature as a relationship between reader and writer. Perhaps I'm trying to startle the reader a little bit with my unexpected juxtapositions of images, sounds, and/or contexts, but I can't know what I might startle them into. Maybe I'll startle them into writing, and into engaging with me or others in unexpected ways.

A strong motif which can be found in some, if not most of your works, is the almost sacred connection among different women, be it mythical goddesses or mortals. How important do you find women (or non-men)-only spaces and communities in everyday life?

Thanks for reading my work as invoking sacred connections among women! I do think that such connections can happen, and when they do it's a wonderful thing. In the 1990s, such spaces as Kinesis: The Newspaper of the Vancouver Status of Women and Asian Lesbians of Vancouver (ALOV) were really important to me. There was a fraught but very productive gathering of Asian women, Indigenous women and lesbians in 1988 that I didn't attend, but that had a great effect on me in the aftermath. It was called Telling It, and involved quite of a few of the writers who remain my heroines and role models: Lee Maracle, Jeannette Armstrong, Daphne Marlatt, Betsy Warland, SKY Lee, Viola Thomas among others.

When I was younger, women/non-men only spaces were really important, whether they were in the night clubs, community gatherings, or groups organizing towards feminist, lesbian or queer goals. These days though, I'm just working all the time! I suppose I create those kinds of spaces more organically, with friends I've known for a long time. Isn't that funny? I remember when I was young we used to wonder why older women were never at the clubs and seldom came to gatherings. Well, the answer is: less energy and more longstanding relationships!

You wrote about an epidemic in your 2018 novel The Tiger Flu. Do you feel like you are reliving parts of your own fictional story during the ongoing global pandemic of COVID-19?

When the pandemic hit, it felt to me like I already understood what was going on, and that the rest of the world was just catching up to me in the place I'd be living over the 16 years of working on the novel. As the pandemic deepened, however, I began to see that there were aspects of COVID-19 that I had not foreseen that very much shape our daily lives, things like vaccine production and the politics of its uptake, and also all the politics around masking. What I did forsee was the intensification of our lives online, deepening divides between the privileged and the marginalized, the growth of communities into their own strangeness, artificial moons, de-extinction projects, the uptake of new and/or experimental therapies, and an advancing politics of blame and othering. This is not really foresight though, but rather a habit of paying attention to what's already unfolding in the present, whether others see it or not.

Have you recently been working on any projects as a professor/researcher at the University of Calgary that you would like to tell us about?

I'm currently working on a novel about the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in the 1930s. It will be my first historical novel! The working title is The Lost Century.

I also run an "un-centre" at called The Insurgent Architects' House for Creative Writing, that takes as its twin focii experiments in form and social justice. We've been podcasting a lot through the pandemic. You can check us out here:

Racism against Eastern Asian people of colour in predominantly white countries has increased enormously during the pandemic. Racism is also one of the topics of your research. How do you deal with this issue, both personally and professionally?

That's a very big question, since it's one I face on an almost daily basis. I have a whole lifetime of lived experience of it. Maybe I'll just say that, at the level of the personal, I have a complex set of strategies to deflect and undermine the more banale types of racism. The most prevalent kind of racism in my life is structural, which of course shapes everything from friendships to relationships to job prospects and work life. This is, of course, frustrating, and can be extremely exhausting.

I organize to combat racism through such organs as the Racial Equity Committee at the Writers' Union of Canada. I sit on the Anti-Racism, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for my department. I regularly speak up on the other committees I also sit on in the interests of BIPOC people. These are all liberal strategies that nevertheless can have immediate material results, which I why I do it.

I also write and organize in the direction of better structures. In my critical and creative writing I try to think historically and structurally to advance critique and to imagine other structures that might get us out of the mess. I also have a long history of community-based cultural organizing which I engage to build better structures. I currently direct The Insurgent Architects' House for Creative Writing at the University of Calgary, where I try to enact practices-- some very effective and some a bit experimental, to make changes in the realm of cultural production.

For me, it's also important to support and fight for those communities that are even more deeply racialized and discriminated against that my own, specifically Black and Indigenous communities. I work hard to be a good ally, though I don't always succeed. But it is of tantamount importance to try. So I march, attend rallies, organize, teach, and try to support Black, Indigenous and Asian students.

How would you describe the position of the LGBTQ+ community in Canada in comparison to China?

I'm sorry to say I know very little about LGBTQ+ communities in China. I wish I knew more. I've been interviewed by queer women based there a couple times. They've always been interesting and nice. But I don't have a strong sense of their lives out there. I've visited long enough to say hello and meet one or two people, but I've never lived there. I'm pretty firmly rooted/routed in diaspora communities and our lives in transit.

Thank you for your time!

LL: Thank you for the interview. It was great to talk to you.


Veronika Razpotnik

Veronika Razpotnik (1997) je po izobrazbi in spolni usmerjenosti bi-okemičarka. Tekom svoje literarne poti, ki je še v fazi asfaltiranja, je postala ena izmed finalistov 19. in 21. Pesniške olimpijade, na literarnem natečaju Rdeča nit 2019 prejela prvo nagrado v kategoriji poezija ter se uvrstila v finale natečaja za najboljšo protestno pesem ali družbeno satiro – Mentorjev feferon. Objavljala je v revijah Mentor, Spirala, Novi zvon, na spletnih platformah LUD Literatura in Koridor – Križišča umetnosti ter v Lezbozinu in Bizinu. Deluje tudi kot urednica. Veronika je kot članica skupine Akademski kolegij študentom! v letu 2019 svojo poezijo v precejšnji meri povezovala s temo stanovanjske problematike, kar je pretenciozen izraz za njen wannabe aktivizem. Že dolgo si želi napisati srečno pesem, a ji do zdaj še ni uspelo. Poje v zboru, na urah solo petja ali pod tušem in v družbi mačk uživa bolj kot v družbi ljudi.