Marilyn Dumont, biography: Her first collection, A Really Good Brown Girl, won the 1997 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award presented by the League of Canadian Poets. This collection is now in its eleventh printing, and selections from it are widely anthologized in secondary and post-secondary literary texts. Her second collection, green girl dreams Mountains, won the 2001 Stephan G. Stephansson Award from the Writer’s Guild of Alberta. Marilyn has been the Writer-in-Residence at the universities of Alberta and Windsor, and at Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton and Massey College, University of Toronto. She teaches Creative Writing through Athabasca University and was a mentor for the 2006 Wired Writing Program - Banff Centre for the Arts. Marilyn continues to work on a fourth manuscript in which she explores Métis history, politics and identity through her ancestral figure, Gabriel Dumont.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
My first book launched me into the publishing world and I was mostly prepared, but I later recognized that the book marketing world will do whatever it needs to attract attention to its product. If I had been more astute, I would have been more careful with promotional material that touted me as a descendant of Gabriel Dumont instead of focusing on my writing. It's taken me some time to promote my writing self, to reverse the presentation of self where I'm a writer first and a descendant second.
2 - How long have you lived in Edmonton, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
My first book made me a writer in a tangible way. This made me both ecstatic and fearful, but once I had completed the small festival circuit and realized the next year that someone else was "product," I was disillusioned and relieved. I could write in obscurity again. I have lived in Edmonton for approximately sixteen years. Edmonton is where I locate my familial and cultural history. Since one of my reasons for writing, originally, was to give voice to the struggles of my ancestors, my "race" has been central to my writing.
3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A poem begins for me from a variety of stimulus. It is often from reading, sometimes from music, a certain quality of light, a newspaper headline, from a poetry reading, a memory.
I never used to plan poetry collections around themes, but lately I'm doing that because my writing is informed by historical research.
4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?
Because I secretly wanted to be a dancer or a singer, readings satisfy that part of me which wants to perform. While crafting poetry, I make creative choices based on rhythm and sound, so reading is the culmination of that process.
5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Identity issues always intrigue me and I have felt, over the years, like the wasp or bee hovering over the sweet nectar of identity if there is such a static phenomena.
6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an outside editor is critical to my work because IT is about process.
7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?
I am much more critical of my work now than when I started. I think that I'm critical to the point that it slows down my production, so it's more difficult to get books together.
8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
The last time I ate a pear was in August 2007.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Some of the best advice I've read is "The unconscious creates; the ego edits," Jane Hirshfield Nine Gates.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't have a writing schedule because I'm too busy trying to support myself with freelancing.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing gets stalled, I read poetry, I read books on writing process, and I make things with my hands: quilting, beading, sewing, collage.
12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?
My most recent book is similar to my other two books in it's aboriginal content, but different in that I have gravitated to women's pov and female narrators.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Definitely, my work is influenced by nature because of my formative years growing up in logging camps along the foothills in Alberta. My strongest imagery is anchored in nature.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Writers which are important to my work are too many to mention, but a few are: Sharon Olds, Stephen Dunn, Joy Harjo, Lucille Clifton, and Louise Erdrich.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Something which I have done and which I'd like to do more of is write short fiction.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
If I hadn't been a writer, I would like to have been a translator.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I began writing in a journal in my thirties and I wrote to keep myself sane. How am I doing so far?
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk.
19 - What are you currently working on?
I'm presently hoping for time to work on a collection loosely focused around Gabriel Dumont and the last days of the Riel Resistance. I'm also interested in writing about the aboriginal women in the early history of Edmonton.
12 or 20 questions archive