Monday, November 14, 2011

Out-of-Town-Authors: Alison Pick

PADDLES and potty training

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon

Toronto writer Alison Pick is responsible for two books of poems, two novels, and a two-year-old daughter.

Though Pick acquired an early reputation for her nature writing, her most recent novel, Far to Go, explores how family histories intersect with historical events such as the Holocaust.

Pick will read Nov. 17 with Rhea Tregebov as a part of the Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture at the Rady Jewish Community Centre.

1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

I'm a classic introvert - not that I'm shy, but I thrive in solitude rather than in big groups of people - so I always have to spend some time ahead of a performance going over my notes and thinking about exactly what I'll say. My worst nightmare is having to go in front of an audience without time to prepare. That said, I do love the chance to talk about Far to Go, a book that is especially dear to my heart, and to have the opportunity to meet my readers.

2) What do you want people to know about Far to Go?

Far To Go tells the story of a Czech Jewish family in the late '30s, during the lead-up to the Second World War. Although the book is decidedly not autobiographical, my great-grandparents died in the Holocaust, and the book is written in their memories. My grandparents escaped Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, came to Canada and renounced their Judaism. They had been essentially non-practising, and they were afraid that what was happening in Europe could happen here as well. My dad grew up not knowing he was Jewish, and I only found out the truth by accident as a young teenager. So writing Far to Go was a way for me to imagine what it meant to be the particular type of Jews my grandparents were in the particular historical moment in which they lived.

3) Will this be your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

I've been to Winnipeg twice before. The first was to read from my 2003 poetry collection Question & Answer. The second time was on a publicity stop as part of a cross-Canada canoe trip I took to raise money and awareness for mental illness. I had a friend who paddled the whole country over the course of three summers, and I joined her for the middle leg. After 60 days in the woods I was over the moon about being able to take a shower, pick up mail, eat a fresh salad.

4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

I've got a two-year-old daughter, so I'm really not reading much outside of books about temper tantrums and potty training. I am, in fits and starts, enjoying Julie Orringer's The Invisible Bridge and Charlotte Gill's Eating Dirt. In terms of writing, I'm working (slowly!) on a memoir that arose out of Far to Go. It explores a depression I suffered while I was researching and discovering my family's hidden Jewish history, and the ways in which the decisions of our ancestors can echo down generations, affecting the present in very real ways.

5) Canoe trips have featured in both your fiction and your poetry. How is writing about canoeing like and unlike actual canoeing?

The last big canoe trip I took was in 1999 - these days I'm lucky if I get out for a day or two every summer. But I'm still passionate about the wilderness in the same way I am about writing. Both seem to bring me home to myself, to make the world feel more hospitable, more peaceful. And certainly a long canoe trip is not dissimilar to the writing of a novel in terms of the patience, persistence and sheer grunt work required. That said, at this point in my life I can live without those epic canoe trips, whereas if I had to live without writing I'd be a very unhappy person indeed.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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