The Author Spotlight Series shines a light on writers creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their books and why they do what they do.
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“Anita Anand is an author, translator and language teacher from Montreal. She is the winner of the 2015 QWF Concordia University First Book Prize for Swing in the House and Other Stories, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Relit Award for Fiction and the Montreal Literary Diversity Prize. Her translation of Nirliit, by Juliana Léveillé-Trudel was nominated for the 2018 John Glassco Prize. She has also translated Fanie Demeule’s novel Déterrer les os, known in English as Lightness.”
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I only briefly wanted to, when I was somewhere in my early teens. It was because writing was the only thing that came naturally to me. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I am a klutz who is bad at math, and I am not crazy about being around a lot of people. My family discouraged me though, pointing out that it would be impossible to make a living that way. That is what they’d said about my earlier passion, which was drawing, come to think of it.
I briefly found work as a journalist, but did not enjoy chasing people around to get them to answer my questions.
I became an ESL teacher and am now gradually reinventing myself as a translator.
But I have never been able to actually stop writing.
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
No, but it might have been a letter to one of my brothers. When I was six, he began attending a private high school in Manitoba, for some reason. I missed him terribly, and wrote him a letter every single day. Incredibly, he wrote his little sister back. It became a habit.
How did you develop your skills?
Reading, writing, being edited, self-editing. How I did not develop my skills: study literature or creative writing. I am a little intimidated by academics. They always seem to know more about my writing than I do.
Who are some of your biggest literary influences? Do you have a favourite book/author?
When I was ten, I ordered a book from a Scholastic catalogue that was there by mistake. I know it was a mistake because there is “adult content” in that book. But it was mostly about a runaway named Morag who lives in the woods in Scotland. I read it over and over. The author is Jean Renvoize, and the name of the book is A Wild Thing. Yes, I know you have never heard of it.
My husband managed to track a copy down and order it for me.
It’s still good.
One of the things that was probably really good about it –i.e.good for me — was it featured a fearless, fiercely independent and resourceful female protagonist. It only struck me just now, as I was writing this, that that is why I found it so fascinating. And although I would not personally survive a night alone in the woods, it was important for me to see a female protagonist with her resilience. Morag was mentally tough, and just meeting her in that novel was important to my little girl self. It was probably an unconscious influence that got me through a lot.
I have read many books over the years; I know they have influenced me but I don’t necessarily know in what way. In no particular order: I believe I have read every word ever published by Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Edna O’Brien, Thomas Baldwin, Geoffrey Dyer and David Sedaris.
How would you describe your work?
I have a pared down style that is occasionally poetic. I write about people and their relationships. Readers tell me that I address racism, homophobia, sexism and mental illness; I am sure that is true, but when I am actually writing, I feel as though I am writing about misunderstandings, in general.
What’s your writing process like?
When I sit down to write, I typically have a scene in mine. So, I write scenically. I describe one scene, whether it consists of a paragraph or several pages. Then I get up and go for a walk.
Tell us about your most recent book.
A Convergence of Solitudes is a novel with three threads that follows two families. It spans fifty years, beginning with Partition in India, passing through the Vietnam War, ending after the second referendum in Québec. Most of the book takes place in Montreal. One of the families is based on my own. The second family features a character based on a real musician, and his family, whom I invented. There is a bit of suspense in the novel. As I teacher, I meet many people who find literary novels and even historical novels boring. So the suspense is for them, to invite them to come along for this ride.
What are you working on now/next?
I am translating two novels: Mukbang, by Fanie Demeule, and Là où je me terre by Caroline Dawson, which I have tentatively titled The Place I’ve Burrowed. I think the next book I write might be non-fiction, and it may be a meditation on mortality.