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  • Writer's pictureMarías at Sampaguitas

Interview with Kathy Mak

Kathy Mak is an emerging writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has completed an online creative writing course called Lit Mag Love taught by Rachel Thompson, and an online fiction course with the University of Iowa. Her poetry has appeared in The /tƐmz/Review.

When did you first realize your affinity for writing? What is your “origin” story?

I think it all started when I was in second grade. My teacher had us write a short story using pre-existing characters from contemporary books. Mines was “Little Miss Sunshine Goes To School”. The entire story was assembled together using construction paper, cardboard, and Hilroy exercise sheets. It was that warm, yummy feeling of pride in my heart, that I decided I could become a writer when I grow up. I continued to write short stories for a while, then shifted to writing poetry in sixth grade. Because I had too many ideas and could never finish writing a story, I decided to try out a shorter genre. In high school, I joined a creative writing club called New Shoots and published my first poem “Departure MIA” in the anthology. Now I am experimenting with different genres, such as creative nonfiction and other hybrid forms.

I am lucky that through my writing journey, I’ve had a lot of support and encouragement from my family and friends, and I want to especially say thank you to: my mom, my sister, Ms. Lee, Ms. Mokonen, Ms. Lew, Mrs. Berns, Ms. Marshall, Ms. Borg, Mr. Wrinch, Ms. Moulton, Ms. James, and Mr. MacLeod. And to The /tƐmz/Review, Marías at Sampaguitas, and Kissing Dynamite for believing in my work.

Do you have a website we can use to see your work?

Not yet! Currently, that is on my to-do list. I already have a few ideas on what I want my website to look like, but I just need to put some time into creating it!

Did you complete a “traditional” education (e.g. completing a Bachelor’s program at uni), if so, are you going to pursue an MA or a PhD? If you have not pursued “traditional” education, what is your advice to writers who either do not have the means to attend a 4-year or do not feel that institutionalized academia is for them?

I am currently completing a Bachelor’s in Business Administration. This comes to a surprise to a lot of people because if my hobby is creative writing, shouldn’t I be pursuing a Communications, English, or Literature degree instead? But just because my degree isn’t creative writing related, it doesn’t mean that I’m less of a writer than those who pursue writing related degrees.

I’ve heard that post-secondary creative writing programs are difficult to get into, and that rejections are a common occurrence. For those who don’t feel the institutionalized academia is for them, reading and writing in your own time can be just as fulfilling. Finding opportunities to get involved in the community, take occasional online courses from writers themselves would allow you to have a meaningful writing career too.

As a writer of color, how do you feel your experience differs from your White colleagues? What would you like to see changed in the publishing industry to help elevate people of color/marginalized voices?

Yes, I think my experience does differ from White colleagues. White people are placed on a higher regard than any other race, and I know this because I thought this way too. Nobody told me to think like that, but I think it’s been molded into us since we were young. I remember listening to a lecture on “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, and she said by the age of four, children are aware and understand the privilege of being White.

Literary magazines, journals, presses, and agents need to bring a larger focus on encompassing the creations of people of colour and marginalized voices. I remember as a child, most of the popular series books on shelves were written by White authors. It wasn’t until fifth grade, did I read my first book written by a Chinese-American author.

Do you read poetry? Why or why not? If so, who are the poets that influence your writing and why?

Yes, I occasionally read poetry - usually through literary magazines and journals. One poem I read that influenced my writing was “December’s Child” by Catherine Malvern. This poem taught me that using simple words can evoke powerful emotions just as well as using complex vocabulary.

What (or who) inspires your writing? Do you write purely from emotion and experience?

I mostly write from my emotions and experiences and shed light on topics that should be addressed. Usually my poetry is focused on a single feeling or experience, whereas my essays are focused on multiple experiences on a common theme.

What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?

I don’t write for a while, and just read. Whether that be pieces from literary magazines, author interviews, or just sniffing around for news in the literary community. Along the way, something in life comes about, or an idea pops up in my head during a bus ride home - gives me the inspiration to write again.

We’re both a part of the Asian diaspora: we are not living in the country of our ethnic origin. For some readers, mostly white readers, this places a barrier between Them and Us, especially when we write about growing up with two cultures and our dealings with racism. In your email to us, you mentioned you want to let people know that our voice is just as important and worthy in the literary community. For those who are hesitant about reading about Chinese culture, how do you wish to “bridge” this gap to encourage those who did not grow up Asian to take an interest in our background and experiences?

By straight up confronting this issue. A lot of the times, these experiences of racism gets washed away because we want to show that we belong, so we want to make it look like nothing’s wrong. But creations from different races, different cultures, different voices exist for a reason, so why not give them a read?

Your essay, “Living Up,” resonated so deeply with me also being an Asian womxn. This one particular line: “Because I am yellow, I am invisible. I am not seen, much less heard. I regret that I didn’t stand up for myself, for brushing it off like it was nothing.” How do you think writing can help teach young PoC, especially young girls, stand up for themselves in these moments?

Writing helps release the anger and disappointment from these experiences, and it is a way for our voice to get heard. It can also serve as a milestone for yourself to record this moment, and later in life, come back to this experience and see if you have a different view of handling the same situation. A reader said to me she was glad “Living Up” exists because it’s important for fellow people of colour to know they are not alone, and that these issues do need to be addressed.

Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?

A poem I wrote in memory of my favourite librarian and friend will be forthcoming with Kissing Dynamite.

Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?

This is a very good question. My ultimate goal is to have a collection of essays and poetry published, and I intend to do that before I turn thirty. I am also preparing a manuscript of essays for application to the Mentor in Residence program hosted by Room Magazine. Generally, I want to become more involved in the literary community and have been actively looking for volunteer opportunities in literary organizations and magazines.

I don’t know what I expect to see myself in the next five or ten years, but I hope that I continue to keep writing.

For emerging writers of color, what is your advice to them to succeed in the writing community?

I am an emerging writer myself, so I don’t think I qualify to give advice. But one piece of advice I’ve read that really resonated with me was from Jen Sookfong Lee’s interview with Nineteen Questions:

“Give yourself time to write in obscurity. It can be so tempting to jump into a literary scene right away, to make connections before you’ve had a chance to solidify what you want to be writing. You need the time to write, try new styles and genres, and to do so in an environment that is safe and yours alone.”

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