Wednesday, October 04, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is a proud queer woman of colour, radical mother, activist, theatre practitioner, writer, the Artistic Director of b current performing arts. Her one-woman show, The Femme Playlist, premiered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Oct 2014 as part of the afterRock Play Series co-produced by b current, Eventual Ashes and Sulong Theatre. Her other plays include Singkil, (fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company in associa­tion with Factory Theatre), Eating with Lola (Sulong Theatre and Next Stage Festival, first developed by fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre) and Kilt Pins (Sulong Theatre) and Future Folk (collectively written by the Sulong Theatre Collective, produced by Theatre Passe Muraille). She has served playwright residencies at Theatre Passe Muraille, Carlos Bulosan Theatre, Shaw Festival Theatre, Blyth Festival Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Nightswimming Theatre. On September 21 2012, Catherine immersed herself in a lifeboat filled with filthy water for 24 hours without access to food. The event, named Operation Lifeboat, raised money and awareness for the unnatural recurring disasters in the Philippines. It involved more than 45 artists worldwide who performed each hour of the event and resulted in over 30 hours of watched video footage and more than 1100 viewers worldwide. Her children’s book. M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book was published by Flamingo Rampant and her plays Kilt Pins and Singkil were published by Playwrights Canada Press. Scarborough is Catherine’s first full-length fiction and she is so very honoured to have received the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writers' Award and have been shortlisted for the Half the World Global Literati Award after just trying her hand at the art of fiction storytelling. Scarborough was written after several years working as a home daycare provider to Scarborough children. Scarborough has recently been shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I feel like my work is finally reflecting my most authentic self. I have published as a children's book author and as a playwright. But full length fiction feels true for me at this time in my life.

2 - How did you come to playwriting first, as opposed to, say, fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

I am a performer so creating theatre became my first step towards being a writer.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It takes months of thinking and imagining before I put pen to paper. I am a firm believer that artists must be open to change because you can always do better. That means that, no, no way in hell does the first draft look like the final draft. And that's okay. Failure to me is generous to the life of an artist.

4 - Where does a play, performance or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Depends on the work I am creating. Scarborough was the result of many stories that came together over time with a connecting narrative. The novel that I am currently writing needs to be built chronologically. Plays for me, come from stories or images that begin to manifest themselves into dialogue.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love reading. Reading helps me with failure and failure is a big part of my process. I need to publicly incubate my work to know if it sits right onto the page. If I stumble over sentences it's written wrong. If I am struggling to keep everyone's attention then it's written wrong.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don't dwell on these types of questions. I just know I am a conduit to the whispers of the universe. Every artist is. So if I dwell on these questions I am not doing my job. My job is to create, to fail and try again until I create something as close as possible to what the universe intended.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
To tell the truth, even if it hurts.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
No. I find it enlightening. Any difficulties I have are about me and my ego. I need to check my ego to make change and to make the work better.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Keep writing, no matter what.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (plays to fiction to children's books)? What do you see as the appeal?
It has been a wonderful challenge but not easy. I have enjoyed the challenge but I imagine not everyone is up to that.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I try and write every day early in the morning when there is silence in my house and my chronic fatigue has not set in. Then I write until I feel I have said all I need to say for now. I spend the rest of the day working and figuring out images in my head before doing it all again the next day.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I do not believe in writer's block. I believe in doing the work needed to open your body to the universe to hear what it has to say to you. Take a walk. Dance. Eat well. Don't force it. Listen. Write when ready.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of Filipino breakfast on a Sunday morning.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Living as a brown woman and dealing with microagressions every day in the form of racism and misogyny. That gets me writing pretty quickly.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
My partner, Nazbah Tom, is a Navajo poet and their brand of storytelling inspires me daily.

Rohinton Mistry

Lawrence Hill

Andre Alexis

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Travel non stop for a year, stay in destinations for a month at a time, learn the language.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Oh god. This type of question doesn't suit me at all because I have done so many damn things. here is a short list:

Shoe shiner

Home daycare provider

Burlesque performer




Magazine editor

Newspaper columnist

Graphic designer

the list goes on and on. I have no other desire to do anything else. I have done it all.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

When you survive trauma, a story is all you have.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis


20 - What are you currently working on?
I am writing a play called Library about teaching literacy to child soldiers. It's a Theatre for Young Audiences script being developed by Geordie Productions in Montreal, with support from Banff Centre for the Arts.

I am writing my second novel, Crosshairs, which explores what would happen if LGBTQ, Black and Brown folks were forced to take arms against white supremacy.

[Catherine is currently touring, and launches in Ottawa as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival on Saturday, October 21st, alongside Martha Baillie and Ahmad Danny Ramadaan, lovingly hosted by Rhonda Douglas]

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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