CSL Blog Project, Volume 8: Do Not Be Afraid to Speak Out (Feat. Kate Rittner-Werkman)

Do Not Be Afraid to Speak Out

by Shicheng Xu

Kate Rittner-Werkman

Kate Rittner-Werkman is a writer who was born in Hamburg, Germany. When she was a child, she immigrated to Canada and lived in a few different cities before she settled in Edmonton. She uses English to write, but she is a bilingual speaker and thinker of her German culture. Kate is experienced in writing for newspapers and cultural organizations. Now, she is working on her first book, which relates to the true story of her father. She has a large number of photos and silent videos, which were a long-kept secret; these pictures were taken by her father when he was on the frontline of the German Army during World War II. I am interested in how bilingual speakers use their second language to write and how to mix their culture, which comes from their homeland, into their work. Kate uses her pen to make sure her voice is heard; to reach out to tell people what had happened on Germany’s frontline during the Second World War. She is interested in showing the truth, and she is not afraid to speak out. These qualities led me to choose her to interview.

S X: Why did you choose to become a writer, and does this have any specific meaning to you?

Writing words to make sentences to communicate creative thoughts visually and/or ideas are compelling to me. Sometimes you will find choosing the right words is hard work. I think all writers stand in the shadow of the great writers that came before them. I write because I love the smell of new books! 

A side of the war most Canadians don’t see: The German 30th Division resting on their way through occupied France. Photo courtesy K.A. Rittner Archives.

S X: You are writing a new book related to your father’s photographs and silent film which he took from the frontline of the German Army during the Second World War. When you first saw those, how did you feel about them? Did that information lead you to make the decision to write the book? Will you relate your book to German culture? I also found you have a background in journalism and arts administration, so will you use the “journalism style” to write it?

Those photos and footage are first-hand information from someone close to me that is part of history, and yes, they led me to write the book. Of course, I will make the connection between the culture part and my book. As my book is a creative non-fiction book, I may use the “journalism style,” so the answer can be yes or no. 

S X: Did any problems come up during the writing of this book? If you find the research is different with your information, will you do deeper research or just use that information which comes from your father? 

Problems do come up. The stigma of this particular history means that my father’s personal story can be lost among the popular thought of this history. If there is some information that confuses me, I will do some research, but I go with my father’s notes, as this is a first-hand account.

At the end of the interview, Kate offered a few tips to people who are bilingual speakers, those who are afraid to speak out, or who want to write properly in connection with culture. Some suggestions include:

Quote by Tariq Ramadan, picture source: picturequotes.com
  1. Do not be afraid to speak out, or do not be afraid to feel the need to speak out. However, when you speak out, especially on some political issues, if it is possible, you need to investigate and research both sides. Sometimes writers must speak out in a way that protects themselves politically. Most issues come from fear, and every culture has its fears. Writers will often find that there are others in their culture who share these concerns, and are grateful for those with the voice and courage to speak out. Like Ai Weiwei for example, a Chinese artist and activist who often criticizes the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. Therefore, you should not be afraid of letting your voice be heard. If you have done the proper research on every side of the issue, do not feel uncomfortable speaking out just because you have a different background from others.
  2. If you want to write, just start writing and keep writing every day. At first, you may write only for five minutes per day. As Hemingway said, “Write one true sentence,” and when you finish writing you should always look to the great writers for advice. You should know you are not alone; do not feel as if you are the only one who keeps writing every day.
  3. It is very important to write from the heart.

Sometimes, speaking out can be very important. Kate is using her own book to speak out, exposing controversial and long-kept secret information about World War II. Even if some people think speaking out is too difficult, writers can still publish the truth so that everybody can see it for themselves. Do not be afraid. And if you want to, just keep writing in order to make it a habit. One day you will find the world will hear and understand your voice, even if you use your second language to say the words.

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