Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Lee Maracle on why she listens to her family

The author of Talking to the Diaspora answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Lee Maracle is the author of Talking to the Diaspora. (Columpa Bobb)

When Lee Maracle talks, we listen. The celebrated author has been writing and publishing for four decades — her most recent poetry collection, Talking to the Diaspora, showcases her innovative genre-busting style (from poetry to storytelling to memoir and myth).  When she's not writing, she's performing, teaching, bearing witness to the past and re-envisioning the future. 

Below, Lee Maracle answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A. 

1. Kate Pullinger asks, "Do you pay attention to the opinions of your family — parents, spouse, siblings, children, etc. — when it comes to your writing, both in terms of what you write about, but also how you write?"

Yes, I do. I pay attention to whatever any family members say. We are, however, all Stó:lō so they have a "building" way to comment, i.e. "I notice you are more poetic when the subject is difficult," rather than imposing their writing on me.

2. Helen Humphreys asks, "If you write in a room with a window, what is the view out of that window?"

I am not looking out the window, I am looking inside my mind at the story as it unfolds and the screen as I write it down. I have written facing an open uncurtained window for the past two months and can barely remember what I was looking at. I am totally focused on the pictures in my mind.

3. Donna Morrissey asks, "How do you deal with daily life while you're in the middle of creating a book?" 

I live alone and I work part-time, so I usually do whatever I please. The only inconvenience my daily life presents are medical appointments — seems to me you get more of them as you age — otherwise, if I don't feel like doing housework or dishes I don't do it.

4. Ian Brown asks, "What is your fantasy job — the work you'd love to do if you weren't a writer?"

I am doing my fantasy job — teaching. Theatre and the oral tradition.

5. Tomson Highway asks, "If you were a musician, which instrument would you play? That is to say, which instrument would you choose to tell your story with?" 

It would be the piano. I even tried to take lessons, but like learning to type, I could not stop making errors, and that is such a crime on a piano. As a child, I felt like I could hear the piano speaking under the music [classical] it was playing. It seemed to me that the piano was playing under the fingers of the pianist and not like the pianist was playing the piano. It transported me to a place that only the piano could take, and this is still true today. I want to pluck the sounds from the air, the way the piano does.

6. Karen Solie asks, "Do you remember who you were reading when you first realized, not that you wanted to be a writer, but that you were intrigued by writing and what it can do?"

I was reading Chekhov [the master of the short story] — all the foregoing was in the title. A very short story — a page and a half. I was horrified and upset for the child in the story and wanted to save him. I ran home to tell my mother, and she explained the business of fiction. I knew then that that is what I wanted to write.

7. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your favourite thing a reader has ever said to you?"

Last week, an older student [Indigenous] told me that he read Celia's Song out loud to his mother as she lay dying. He said, "she would always ask me, 'What does Lee have to say today?' as though she knew you, and I would read. As I read, we forgave each other our various trespasses. It was good, healing."

8. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "Have you ever written a sentence you think could save lives?"

No. I have written things that others have told me saved their life, but I have never thought that something I wrote would save a life. When I am satisfied, I breathe, long and deep, and smile, irregardless of the subject — that is as good as it gets.

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