Interview: Madeleine Thien, Writer-in-Residence, Simon Fraser University

Scott D. Jacobsen at In-Sight:

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside? How do you find this influencing your development?

ScreenHunter_532 Feb. 23 12.05My parents speak different dialects of Chinese (Hakka and Cantonese) and so our common language was always English. Although, often, my parents would speak their own dialect to each other – so two languages simultaneously – and they would understand. My mother was born in Hong Kong and my father in Malaysia, but they rarely spoke about life before Canada. I think, for different reasons, and with different degrees of success, they both tried to forget. They couldn’t afford to return home, and so they had to accept that it was gone or else feel the constant pain of being cut off. For a long time I felt an incredible sadness when I thought about the sacrifices my parents made for us. Now that I’m older, I see their courage, selflessness and their extraordinary reinvention.

2. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider a pivotal moment in your transition to writing?

It was chaotic. We moved a lot and my parents were under constant financial stress. My siblings left home at very young ages, and my father left when I was sixteen. That was probably one of the earlier pivotal moments, because for awhile he simply disappeared. I was living with my mother, but we were really cut off from one another emotionally. I lived in my head. Writing became a way to express things that were unsayable, either because they were private and confused, or because they might injure another person, or because I didn’t know what the truth was. Writing was a space to lay things down.

More here.