Monday, December 5, 2011

Interview with TOMO Contributor Ann Tashi Slater

Ann Tashi Slater (author of the Tomo story “Aftershocks”) earned an MFA in creative writing at the University of Michigan and a BA in comparative literature at Princeton. Her stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Gulf Coast, Painted Bride Quarterly, and American Dragons (HarperCollins). Her translation of a Cuban novella was published in Old Rosa: A Novel in Two Stories (Grove). A longtime resident of Japan, she teaches American Literature at Japan Women’s University.

You have a border-crossing background. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Ann Tashi Slater
My mother is Tibetan, from Darjeeling, India, and my father is American, from New Jersey. They met in medical school in New York and I was born in Spain, where my father was stationed at a naval base. After two years there, we spent a year in Darjeeling and Kathmandu, then moved to the States, where I grew up in New Jersey and California.

How did you come to settle in Japan? 
When I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to be a writer and wanted to travel. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do this but for starters, went to Darjeeling to live with my grandmother for a while and work on a family history. In India, I met some travelers who’d come from Japan; they said it was a really interesting and beautiful place. Intrigued, I decided to go to Tokyo for a few months to work and write. I fell in love with Japan and have now been here over 20 years!

The story “Aftershocks” focuses on the strain felt by a family after 3/11. Can you discuss your inspiration for this story? Have you noticed families around you struggling after 3/11? 
Any kind of event like the 3/11 earthquake and its aftermath creates tremendous stress for everyone affected. I did notice families in our community struggling: couples in disagreement about whether to stay or go, kids on edge because of the continuing aftershocks and the conflict between their parents. Also, I’ve always been interested in natural disaster as metaphor, for example how the earth slipping along deeply-buried fault lines can be a metaphor for long-repressed tensions suddenly exploding in a marriage. In the case of my story, the aftershocks following the 3/11 earthquake got me thinking about how we deal with the unpredictable emotions that occur after an event of this magnitude.

Have you been involved in volunteer work related to Tohoku? 
My family is participating in a project to clean photos salvaged from Tohoku and put them up on a website so that they can, hopefully, be identified and returned to their owners.

You write for both young adults and adults, fiction and nonfiction. Can you tell us a bit about some of your projects and what you are working on now? Any plans for a YA novel? 
I’ve written a multi-generational novel set in Darjeeling and based on my family history on the Tibetan side. I’m finishing a travel memoir that takes place in Delhi, Dharamsala, Calcutta, and Darjeeling, and am working on short stories as well as creative non-fiction. No plans at the moment for a YA novel, but you never know!

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?  
We admire your strength and courage; you are an inspiration. Hang in there and know that people around the world are rooting for you.

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