A Conversation with Sarah Tsiang, WOTS Toronto
The Word On The Street is coming up, and we're partnering with WOTS Toronto to bring you author interviews, contests, and lots of snaps on the day!
When: Sunday, September 23, 2012—11:00 a.m.
Where: Queens Park Circle , Toronto, ON M5R 2E8
As part of 49th Shelf's #Fest2Fest, Julie Wilson is speaking with authors across the country (and abroad) who are appearing at literary festivals to promote their latest books. And I've been lucky enough to get in on a bit of the action!
Sarah Tsiang will appear at Word on the Street Toronto 2012 at the Children's Reading Tent at 12:10 PM - 12:30 PM
KC: There is a certain whimsy to your picture books A Flock of Shoes and The Stone Hatchlings, but then whimsy isn’t the right word really because these stories are both so solidly rooted in imagination. There is no explanation for their magic, and no tidy moral at the end either, because the magic is the very point. Is this deliberate? What has been your approach to crafting these stories?
ST: I love the phrasing of your question, “solidly rooted in imagination”. I take that as a great compliment, because I believe that imagination is a kind of solid reality, though it plays out in each individual’s head rather than in everyone’s head. Fiction itself is a kind of solid imagination, a shared experience (and therefore a real experience) rooted in imagination.
But back to your question—no there is no explicit moral in the stories, and the tale itself is more about the sudden and inexplicable ways in which we fall in love, or have our lives altered. I would argue that the magic is really beside the point: it is the relationships that drive the narrative. Children (and adults) can fall in love with just about anything in the world, and love is always real, whether or not that love is directed towards your parents, your sandals, a couple of rocks, or a stuffed monkey.
It’s true too that there is no explanation for magic, because I personally find magic quite inexplicable. Kids live in a world that is mostly unexplained, and they just have to accept that for some reason the lights work, caterpillars turn into butterflies, and magnets can seemingly play with gravity. Miracles of unknown origin surround us.
ST: Has there been a difference in how adult and child readers have responded to the books? On the whole, do the grown-ups manage to get it? Because I can see how your imaginative leaps might challenge the common reader…
I think the only difference in the way kids and grown-ups read it is that grown-ups always say “this part is her imagination, and this part is real”. Kids seem to be able to walk that middle ground and understand that in The Stone Hatchlings, for example, Abby’s birds are both real and not-real at the same time.
KC: Who are the children’s authors who have inspired you in your own work?
ST: Oh gracious, this is a long answer, and unfortunately an incomplete one. I don’t think I’d be able to name all the kids books that have ended up influencing me. I adore the books by Barbro Lindgren, and I think I was heavily influenced by Komako Sakai’s “Emily’s Balloon”. The Stone Hatchlings was very directly influenced by the wonderful surrealist writer Jason Heroux. Often though, the authors that have inspired me are lost to the ages because they were in the pile of 50 books that I read to my daughter in our hundreds of visits to the library. Sheer volume is necessary when you’re trying to get a real feel for the rhythm and brilliance of picture books (or when you have a toddler hungry for literature). Off the top of my head though, here are some authors among the hundreds that have inspired me: Mo Willems, Margaret Wise Brown, Barbara Reid, Maurice Sendak, Ruth Ohi.
KC: Of the many hats you wear, children’s author is but one. You are also a poet. What are the connections between your poetry and your kids’ books? What do they reveal about your preoccupations as a writer?
ST: My kids books and my poetry are very tied together. My first book of poetry, Sweet Devilry, is very focused on my experiences as a mother. In fact, my first picture book, A Flock of Shoes, was an extension of a line of one of my poems from Sweet Devilry (10 points to anyone who can point out which line). My work is also thematically related, as many of my overarching metaphors have to do with love and loss.
KC: How do your literary festival experiences differ when you're presenting as a children¹s author instead of an adult author? Which do you find the most challenging?
ST: I often find grown-ups terrifying. They’re just so serious. Reading to children is always a delight because they come to you so ready and willing to laugh, to be entertained, and to just hear a story. I find reading poetry to adults especially intimidating because of the “poetry face” so many audience members give you—a kind of intense frown as they listen. I think anyone would find it easier to read to a crossed-leg 5 year old who is hugging herself and smiling.
KC: Do you have a favourite literary festival memory, as either a presenter or audience member?
ST: I think it would have to be when I saw Ruth Ohi reading and illustrating for kids at the Kingston Writer’s Festival. She had this irrepressible energy and I just wanted to barge through the throng of admiring children to get in front and give her a hug (for the record I did restrain myself). I find the ability to draw absolutely magical and Ruth Ohi can pull a lot of rabbits out of her hat when she’s got a pen and paper. It was really spell-binding.
About The Stone Hatchlings: When Abby finds two warm stones in the backyard, she imagines them to be unhatched birds. She builds them a nest and watches over them carefully until one day, they crack open to reveal two gray chicks. With a flourish of her paintbrush, Abby turns the make-believe birds into colorful creatures, which she lovingly nurtures. Then one day, the birds stop eating; they no longer want to sing. All they do is stare longingly out the window. Abby soon realizes that the only cure is to set them free. A poignant story about the power of a child’s imagination.
About Sarah Tsiang: Sarah Tsiang is an award-winning poet who publishes her work under the name Yi-Mei Tsiang. Her first children’s book, A Flock of Shoes (2010), was inspired by a line from the last poem in her collection of poetry, Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011). She is also the author of Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Spring 2012). Sarah and her daughter spend a lot of time at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, where they are trying to read every picture book in the building.
More about Word On the Street: Toronto
As always, WOTS will celebrate readers and literacy by hosting authors and speakers in a variety of venues.
The Nothing But The Truth Tent features authors talking about literary non-fiction. The Great Books Marquee features the buzz spring and fall titles. The Penguin Pavilion showcases some of their upcoming and favourite releases, as does Random House at the Remarkable Reads Tent. And there's always a huge crowd for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers Stage and the Toronto Book Awards Tent where you'll hear newly-nominated authors read from their works.
The Humber School Of Writers hosts a day of writing working shops at the Scribendi.com Workshop Marquee.
Young adults will enjoy This is Not The Shakespeare Stage, a new venue featuring sessions with Canadian young adult authors and artists, while KidStreet is back, as always, along with the Children’s Activity Tent featuring activities, crafts, entertainment, and appearances from some of your favourite children's authors and illustrators! Same goes for the Children’s Reading Tent and the TVOKids Stage! Family fun!
Finally, be sure to stop by The Toronto Start Tent and Open Book's Vibrant Voices of Ontario Tent, which celebrates Canadian fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.