Linda Watanabe McFerrin Interviewed in PANK
Asian-American author, Leland Cheuk, sits down with Linda to discuss her own Japanese-American heritage and experience.
Excerpt from the Interview
Cheuk: I loved the poem “Legacy” in which you write: “I’ve thrown out the kimonos, the costumes and robes / I’ve made a new self out of flowers and surgical steel / a shiny new self that blooms every spring / And I’ve cast all the ancestors / back over the sea”. Have you felt constrained by your heritage in your writing (or in the publishing of or reception to your work)?
Watanabe McFerrin: I’ve never felt constrained by my heritage in my work. Maybe I have been constrained by my heritage in life, where I’ve danced the outsider’s dance, but not in my work, which is a record and release of that dance. In my work, I’ve always felt inspired by my heritage, challenged by it, sometimes confounded by it. It’s the same relationship I’ve had with my family: It’s part of me, not all of me, and I want to simultaneously accept and refuse it. I think it’s that tension that fuels what I lay down on the page. I can use that. I wish I had that kind of control over my life. I don’t. Others exert a certain power over outcomes in this world, and where that is the case—in publishing, for example—my heritage has worked to my disadvantage.
LC: You write beautifully about kamis (ghosts) in your novel Namako: Sea Cucumber and elsewhere in the book. Who are some of your literary kamis?
LWMC: I explain the concept of kami in a childish way as Ellen in Namako. The kami are Shinto gods or spirits that take the form of things important to our lives. There are supposedly millions of kami. Ellen tells her friend Anne, “Almost everything is a kami.” So a kami is more a spirit than a ghost and that spirit can be found in the strangest places. Sometimes it finds its home in a being, but often it occupies some other aspect of the natural world. It’s the vulnerability of a baby bird, the power of the wind, the ferocity of a tiger and so on. A tree, a shadow, a musical note, the paper that sits on my desktop—I guess I find my literary “kami” in everything—dark or light—that moves me.
Navigating the Divide is a career-spanning, multi-genre collection from the award-winning indie literature legend, Linda Watanabe McFerrin. In poetry, essays, and fiction that are often profoundly personal and astoundingly surreal, this world traveler and literary explorer busts walls, erects bridges, and ambiguates genre. This multi-faceted collection sets out to attempt its namesake, to “navigate the divide” – between spiritual and physical, between thought and desire, between individual and collective.