Interviews

Ask a Local: Kai Cheng Thom, Toronto

With KAI CHENG THOM

Toronto Author Photo

Your name: Kai Cheng Thom

Current city or town: Toronto

How long have you lived here: 1 year

Three words to describe the climate: Tends toward extremes

Best time of year to visit? Any time that isn’t the winter…meaning the last half of May, June, July, August, and the first half of September.

1. The stereotype of the people who live here and what this stereotype misses:
Toronto carries the reputation of being Canada’s answer to New York City –  everyone is busy, rude, strapped for time, and the rent is too damn high. That said, everyone is just a little bit more relaxed, a tiny bit politer, and the rent is slightly more livable than in the actual NYC – not because Canadians are naturally nicer people, but because Canada has (sort of) universal health care and better social services than most of the USA, though there are plenty of folks who still live in poverty and abject conditions as well. What the stereotype of Torontonians as second-string New Yorkers really misses, I think, is the ways in which so many Indigenous and migrant communities have built strong and lasting identities here that mean so much more than any US-centric sitcom portrayal of Canada and its peoples could ever grasp.

2. Historical context in broad strokes and the moments in which you feel this history:
Toronto, originally “tkaronto,” is unceded Indigenous territory that was the traditional meeting place of many First Nations, including the Anishnaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit Nation. It is also a territory bound by the treaty of the Dish With One Spoon wampum, a historical treaty that binds the traditional caretakers of the land to protect and share it.  Because of its location on the mouth of the Great Lakes, Toronto became a favored place for the trade and industry of the colonizing Europeans, attracting many racialized migrant laborer populations as well. As a result, there is a deep history of violence and cultural genocide here, punctuated by brief moments of collaboration and solidarity. This is never more apparent to me than when I am on the subway, where the vast diversity of Toronto’s racial and cultural communities throngs together, and the historical power dynamics, class tensions, and intense humanity of it all comes to a head.

3. Common jobs and industries and the effect on the town/city’s personality:
Toronto is the largest city in Canada and, along with its more socioeconomically jaded sister Montreal, is a center of financial and cultural production. This means that there are a lot of banker types, artist types, all the folks just hustling to get by on retail and service jobs, not to mention a vast non-profit industrial complex. Everyone has a side gig; everyone’s working an angle. The result is that Toronto is a frothing swirl of efficiency, can-I-sell-ya-something charm, optimism, and desperation.

4. Local/regional vocabulary or food?
Over fifty percent of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada, and the native speaker populations of Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil, and many others range in the hundreds of thousands. The food culture here follows international fashion – like, the city just went through a ramen phase, and there are ramen shops everywhere. The one word of local vocabulary that everyone agrees on, as far as I can tell, is the pronunciation of Toronto as “tranna.”

5. Local politics and debates frequently seem to center on:
Black Lives Matter! And anti-racism/social justice in general.The BLM movement is really strong in its organizing here, which is great! However, what this points to is the huge amount of work that needs to take place in order to redress historic wrongs and transform this city into a place where people are safe, valued, and able to meet their basic needs without constant struggle.

 

Kai Cheng Thom is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press), the poetry collection a place called No Homeland (Arsenal Pulp Press), and the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea (Arsenal Pulp Press), as well as a recipient of the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBT Writers.

Photo by author.

Flavia MartinezAsk a Local: Kai Cheng Thom, Toronto
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Awkward Sex Scenes Are My Superpower: An Interview with Bethany Ball

DENNIS NORRIS II interviews BETHANY BALL

Bethany Ball headshot

This year, Bethany Ball’s debut novel What to Do About the Solomons took the literary world by storm, garnering a rave review from The New York Times and a short-listing for The Center For Fiction’s First Novel Prize. In What to Do About the Solomons, Ball writes a provocative, sexy, and darkly funny tale about a multigenerational family with origins in an Israeli kibbutz. She moves us between decades and continents, from lonely childhood to lonely adulthood to the home raid of an alleged money launderer. Perhaps all in a day in for this intricate family that moves simultaneously closer together and farther apart.

In this month’s interview, Dennis Norris II and Bethany Ball talk writing multigenerational families, awkward sex scenes, and more.   

Sunna JuhnAwkward Sex Scenes Are My Superpower: An Interview with Bethany Ball
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Some Voice Has Spoken: an interview with Kirun Kapur

ISABEL MEYERS interviews KIRUN KAPURkirun kapur headshotKirun Kapur is a poet, teacher, poetry editor at The Drum, and author of the collection Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist. Kapur’s debut volume, which grapples with themes of borders, religion, and feminism, feels more relevant by the day since its release in 2015.

Last fall, Kapur taught at Amherst College. She recently spoke to former student Isabel Meyers about Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist; the intersection of personal and political history; girlhood; family as a sense of place; and trusting the poem’s voice.

Isabel MeyersSome Voice Has Spoken: an interview with Kirun Kapur
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Ask a Local: Anzhelina Polonskaya, Frankfurt, Germany

With ANZHELINA POLONSKAYA

Frankfurt city skyline along the River Main

Your name: Anzhelina Polonskaya

Current city or town: Frankfurt

How long have you lived here: 2 years

Three words to describe the climate: windy in winter

Best time of year to visit?: spring, summer


1) The most striking physical features of this city/town are
. . . The skylines and the River Main. Frankfurt was destroyed during the second war, and the skylines give a “fresh air” to the city. Of course, I cannot compare the city to New York or Chicago, but I think the modern architecture makes Frankfurt unique, if we are talking about Germany in general, and fits in general the composition of the city. Everything is around the River Main: holidays, boats, sports, cafes and walkways.

Sunna JuhnAsk a Local: Anzhelina Polonskaya, Frankfurt, Germany
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Our Quest for Safety: an interview with Jill Eisenstadt

JULIA PIKE interviews JILL EISENSTADT

Jill Eisenstadt at the beach

Jill Eisenstadt by Beowulf Sheehan

Jill Eisenstadt’s latest book, Swell, was released to acclaim in June—Rolling Stone called it “the literary comeback of the year,”—thirty years after her debut novel with the same setting, From Rockaway.

In Swell, Eisenstadt tells the story of the Glassmans, a family of four who relocate from Tribeca to Rockaway, New York, in the aftermath of 9/11. The house they move into, like the Glassmans themselves, comes with a fraught history; their confrontation with this past reaches a crescendo that will make readers rethink what it means to love thy neighbor.

In this month’s interview, editorial assistant Julia Pike and Eisenstadt discuss marginalized communities, emotional truth, and the author’s return to Rockaway.

Debbie WenOur Quest for Safety: an interview with Jill Eisenstadt
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Ask a Local: Kayla Rae Whitaker, Louisville, Kentucky

With Kayla Rae Whitaker

Louisville bridge

How long have you lived here: One year. Still feels very new.

Three words to describe the climate:
Because it’s July, humid – on some days, the air feels like drinking cotton. In the winters, damp. But in the fall – particularly the long falls – and the spring, it feels forgiving.

Best time of year to visit? NOT DERBY. May is a beautiful time in Kentucky, but Derby snarls Louisville traffic in the worst possible way. I say this as a newcomer to the city (while I wrote about Louisville, I had never lived there until this year). It only took one Derby weekend for me to see some of the most ridiculous displays of driving I’ve ever seen. Early summer is a good bet. Fall’s nice too.

Flavia MartinezAsk a Local: Kayla Rae Whitaker, Louisville, Kentucky
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The Personal (Essay) is Not Dead: an interview with Mensah Demary

MELODY NIXON interviews MENSAH DEMARY

Mensah Demary headshot

Mensah Demary as an editor is most known for his work with Catapult Nonfiction, and more recently, Black Balloon. But Mensah Demary the writer is a force to be reckoned with. The Common published his essay “Blood and Every Beat” in our most recent issue, No. 13. In this month’s Q&A, Interviews Editor Melody Nixon talks with Demary about audience and desire, creative partnerships, “getting out of his own way,” and why the personal essay is not dead (“the idea is absurd”).

 

Isabel MeyersThe Personal (Essay) is Not Dead: an interview with Mensah Demary
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Gestured to and not yet quite: an interview with Muriel Leung

SARETTA MORGAN interviews MURIEL LEUNG

Muriel Leung Headshot

In this month’s interview, Saretta Morgan talks with poet, editor, and academic Muriel Leung about her poetry collection Bone Confetti; queer love; how loss can activate political consciousness; Hortense Spillers; and writing in a state of transition. Bone Confetti was released by Noemi Press in 2016.

Flavia MartinezGestured to and not yet quite: an interview with Muriel Leung
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