Monday, February 13, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Claire Dawn

Claire Dawn (author of the Tomo story in verse “Ichinichi on the Yamanote”) grew up on the Caribbean island of Barbados. She has been teaching English as a foreign language in Ichinohe, Iwate Prefecture, for three years. In her spare time, Claire writes YA novels. Her work can also be found in the Write For Tohoku anthology. Visit her blog:

Can you tell us a bit about your path from Barbados ultimately to Iwate in Tohoku, Japan?

I ended up in Japan purely by accident. I love traveling and seeing other countries. One day, I was back on my university campus after graduation. A lady in Student Affairs asked me where I was working and I told her I was teaching but I wished someone would pay for me to go overseas. “We have this thing from Japan,” she said. Then she handed me an application packet for the JET program.

Claire Dawn

Why Iwate? I heard about the miserable humid heat of Tokyo in the summer, so I decided to go North. I didn’t know anything about anywhere, but I thought that choosing places that weren’t often chosen would give me a better shot at being selected.

So it was a fluke I ended up in Iwate. But I love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tell us about your work in the JET program in Iwate.

I work as an Assistant Language Teacher. In junior high school, I’m mainly responsible for pronunciation. At elementary school, I teach English, with the purpose of getting the younger children interested. In my town, we also do English at kindergarten where lessons comprise simple vocabulary like colors and numbers. Once a week, I also teach an adult class.

Can you explain the form you chose for “Ichinichi on the Yamanote”?

This form is called a choka—Japanese long poem. It has a structure of 5 syllables followed by 7 syllables, which repeats until the final stanza of 5-7-7.

Why did you choose this form? Do you usually write in verse?

I can’t remember how my interest in Japanese poetic forms started, but when it did, I was surprised by how many forms exist. Most people are familiar with the haiku only. I chose to use verse because I thought it would allow me to get more in depth with the character. Before coming to Japan I performed at Poetry Slams but “Ichinichi on the Yamanote” is my first attempt at a narrative in verse.

What YA authors have particularly inspired you? What do you love about YA writing?

I’m inspired by Natalie Whipple (pre-published), Jay Asher, Courtney Summers, Stephanie Perkins and Elana Johnson. I love the depth of character in YA. I love the sense of discovery. I love the possibilities. And I love the fact that as a YA writer, you can make a difference in someone’s life in a way that you may not be able to make in many other genres of writing.

Claire Dawn cleaning up post-tsunami in Miyako-shi on March 26, 2011, pointing to the waterline on the van

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?

That’s a difficult question for me. I live in Tohoku. I see Tohoku teens every day. I was here for the quake. I’m inland so the tsunami didn’t affect me, but I know what it felt like waking up every 20 minutes all night long, wondering if the Earth would ever stand still. I know what it felt like to wonder if my missing friends were alive or not. I slept in below freezing temperatures with no electricity. I felt the shortages. No gasoline. No toilet paper. No cheese. I had no transportation services. I even went out to the coast (Miyako and Kamaishi in Iwate) to help, so I saw first-hand, the boats on roofs and cars wrapped around poles.

I guess that’s my message. I know. I know what you’ve been through. What you’re still going through. The sights and sounds and feelings you can’t forget. And I’m amazed. I’m amazed by your strength.

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