An Interview with the “Girls’ Night Out” Reading Authors

By Black Moss interns Sylvia Pham, Joshua Dagenais, and Amanda Spence

girls-night-out

Black Moss Press presents Girls’ Night Out, a literary event at Windsor’s BookFest 2011 this Thursday, November 3rd. Four authors will be reading from their most recent releases: Rosemary Sullivan, Karen Mulhallen, Mary Ann Mulhern and Terry Ann Carter. Whether they have travelled to the Toronto Islands, Southeast Asia, Chile or spent time in a convent during the 1970s, they are all influenced by their unique experiences.

Read interviews with all four authors by clicking “more.”

Rosemary Sullivan is an award-winning editor, poet, biographer and critic. Her newest work, Molito, is a children’s book about friendship. She explains:

“It’s an ecological allegory, a celebration of music and the ground under our feet. We share the world with all creatures. As Molito says joyously: ‘There’s just one world.’”

Sullivan co-authored the book with Juan Opitz, with whom she has worked before. She claims that “working with Juan is always fun because we get each other’s intentions. He’s one of the most creative people I know.”

Her sister Colleen Sullivan served as the illustrator for Molito. Rosemary praises her work:

“My sister is a wonderful artist and I knew she would catch the magic of the story. Her illustrations are so alive. Not the caricatures you sometimes find in children’s books. All the creatures and the people are individuals with their own unique expressions. She has a beautiful graphic sense, even down to the way her creatures stand, and the way she balances colours so vibrantly on the page. It was wonderful to see her illustrations develop, and I think her final image of the globe, with the inside and outside worlds matching, is masterful. She got the allegory: We have to think of the earth as alive and celebrate all creatures as part of our world.”

Molito differs from other children’s books because a CD of music and narration accompanies it:

“Born in the underground, Molito is a musician. He plays the drum, which makes the sound of the earth’s heart beating. When Molito climbs up into the upper world, he discovers that it is just an inverse version of his world. In the upper world market he eventually meets three musicians (think Kensington Market). He wants to connect both worlds and decides to build a tunnel so that together they can play the music of the whole world dancing. So we had to have a CD of music and narration in the sleeve of the book. Molito is music.”

Molito will be available for purchase at BookFest.

Karen Mulhallen’s new work The Pillow Books is influenced by Sei Shonagon’s work The Pillow Book. Shonagon was a Japanese court lady who served an empress in the eleventh century. Mulhallen discusses what drew her into Shonagon’s work, and why it is still influential today:

“Sei Shonagon purports to be creating a private document—after all her book is a diary—the kind of book we often lock up—or keep under a pillow or secrete in some other way. But since she was clearly addressing an audience in her text she was testing the boundaries between the private and the public. I think this line or blur between the public and the private is one of the great urges and dilemmas of our time. I am not simply thinking of Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter, but of the fundamental nature of creation which comes out of the self and one’s own biography—emotional or historical—and presents tropes which insist they are not personal but whose emotive power is so often rooted in the emotional life of the creator. This fascinates me and I found Sei Shonagon…readable and evocative.”

All four authors have travelled to different countries, and their experiences in these places influence their writing. Mulhallen travelled to the Toronto Islands, Turkey, and Venice, and she shares her experiences in these different locations in The Pillow Books. She explains how the Toronto Islands influence both her work and herself as a poet:

“Life at the large archipelago called Toronto Island is very elemental—the sky, the water, the foliage dominate. I lived on the eastern tip of the archipelago many years ago and even then it held magic for me. This is one of the places where I feel most in touch with the environment and with myself as a poet.”

Mulhallen talks further about the link between Shonagon’s book and her own, and explains how her time in Turkey and Venice influenced The Pillow Books:

“Two other experiences which led to these poems have been trips to what I call hither Asia—in particular to Turkey and to the Italian city of Venice. Both of these places are what I call hinges, which bridge the east and the west, the orient and the occident. I have spent a lot of time in both Istanbul and in Venice. That sense of the way the Orient and the Occident are so reflective of one another helped me to see how similar the world of the Japanese court is to our own time.”

She wants her readers to learn something new after reading her works: “I would hope readers learn from this not only that there is craft but that there is artistry and there is something of our common lives.”

Also reading this Thursday is Mary Ann Mulhern. In her collection The Red Dress and her upcoming sequel Brides in Black, Mulhern tells the stories about what convent life is really like. A former nun, Mulhern interviewed several other nuns to collect a series of stories:

“I was surprised at the amazing stories women related to me. At first, I really thought that stories of those who had left would be more compelling. This was not the case. Some nuns, who are now almost seventy years of age, had some great stories to tell!”

Her books are eye-opening accounts of life in convents. She conveys the stories with true realism:

“There will always be ‘mythologies’ about convents! Before Whoopi Goldberg’s version, there was The Flying Nun. There were also the romantic notions of convents as portrayed in The Sound of Music. Pure fantasy! The film The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn was not realistic at all. I have no illusions about presenting ‘the truth’ about convents—I just want to convey the reality as I lived it, and as other women did also. I’m really into ‘the story.”

Her books reveal struggles that nuns endured, some that people may not often consider.

“Being a nun was somewhat like living ‘in a past century.’ What I found most intense and problematic was the isolation from family, colleagues at school, and even other nuns—we were never allowed friendship. Thus, loneliness was a reality. At the same time, I view my eight years in the convent as ‘a time out’ from life—not all bad. I left in 1972, just when the women’s liberation movement was making a huge impact on the lives of women in terms of opportunity for a greatly improved quality of life.”

On Thursday night, she will be reading poems from her previous works The Red Dress and Sleeping with Satan.

Finally, coming all the way from Ottawa is Terry Ann Carter. Carter combines Eastern and Western influences into her upcoming collection of poetry:

“I am combining my haiku and my lyric poems for the first time in a mainstream publication. This is very exciting for me. I think the Asian theme of the book lets the haiku flow easily throughout.”

She has helped build houses in the jungles of western Cambodia. She turns knowledge gained from her charity work into several poems that will be in her new collection:

“My poet friend here in Ottawa, Marianne Bluger, was very involved with a charity foundation that helped raised money for the poor of Cambodia. The organization was called ‘Tabitha’. After travelling to Cambodia, myself, in 2001, I came home to help her out, and found myself more and more involved in silk sales and educational talks. I eventually became Chair of Tabitha Canada. I have been on several house building expeditions in the jungles of western Cambodia; many of these experiences I have channelled into poems that will be in my new poetry collection, published by Black Moss in the spring of 2012.”

Her poetry finds a balance between bringing awareness to the tragedies of Cambodia and creating artistically expressive poetry:

“Because I am so involved with this Foundation, yes, I want others to be ‘aware’ but this is a slippery slope in poetry. Poems must work as poetry, not conveyors of information per se. This is always a tricky thing….I travel with a duality. Susan Rich, the American poet once wrote: ‘The external journey of the traveler and the internal mapping of the poet are two different sides of one basic desire: a search for an extended world view.’ I share her philosophy.”

At “Girls’ Night Out” she will be reading poems from her previous work A Crazy Man Thinks He’s Ernest in Paris and a few new poems from her upcoming release.

“Girls’ Night Out” takes place Thursday November 3rd, 2011 and starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Wilkinson Room of the Art Gallery of Windsor. Be sure to check it out!

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