CSL Project: A Personal Interview with Pam Clark
Connecting authors with different experiences can lessen the divide between beginners who are insecure about their writing and experienced authors who may have the facade of being too “professional” to guide others along their way. In an interview with Pam Clark I learn more about her inspiration for writing, how she acquired this passion, and how to become more confident with my own writing. After meeting her through our email interactions, I easily got the impression that Clark is very passionate about storytelling. As a full-time teacher, she also has a love of history, art, and literature and brings all three to her writing and teaching. She “believes in the power of story and encourage you to share your own story.” Clark’s great grandparents immigrated to Canada in the second wave at the end of the nineteenth century and settled in Edna Star, Alberta where her grandmother was born in 1905. Her grandmother met her grandfather (he and his brother had immigrated from Albania/Northern Italy in 1920) in Edmonton. Her family story is very similar to mine, as my maternal great-grandparents immigrated from Lviv, Ukraine, and Krzywcza, Poland in the early 20th century. I’ve heard many stories about the hardships of immigration and the struggle to preserve your culture along the way from my grandmother. Both Clark and I have family all over Canada now. Clark explained how she frequently visited her family as children, and that is where her cultural heritage lived; as well as in embroidery, pysanky, and in their stories. I’ve never never had the chance to discuss my cultural heritage with someone who shares a similar story as mine, and it made this interview more personal and engaging for me.
- Have you ever felt self-conscious about others reading your work and how did you overcome this?
The first readers of Kalyna were my daughters, Hanna and Emily, and that was who I intended Kalyna for, at first. I wanted my daughters to know about their cultural heritage and the stories of the land that so impacted the lives of my grandparents, my parents and my own family. I was not self-conscious having them read it, nor my mom, my aunt or my husband. They all offered input into changes and suggestions about character, and this was most welcome. It was not until I sent Kalyna to other editors such as Bernice Morgan (acclaimed author of Random Passage) and to publishers that the feeling of, “Is it good enough?” “Is it a story people will want to read?” entered my thought process. When Julie and Netta of Stonehouse Publishing contacted me to tell me they wanted to publish Kalyna, our conversation was warm and community building. I had found “my people” who believed in the story of Kalyna. It has been said that birthing a book is somewhat akin to birthing a baby; the fears, the hopes, the dreams that encapsulate that moment. It is safe to say, it was not exactly the same for me. Kalyna was well received by many, including winning the Canadian Author’s Association, Alberta Chapter award for “Exporting Alberta” in 2017, and not well received by some and I took heart in that and celebrated that readers come to a book with their own expectations and their own experiences.
2. What’s the most humbling aspect about being an author?
This is a wonderful question and I have felt absolutely humbled by the impact of Kalyna on so many readers who have written to me and shared their own story of the power of family and friendship, immigrating to Canada and becoming a part of a larger community It is as if hearing the story of Katya and Wasyl frees them to explore their own family’s history and journey to this land. Many readers at events have come up and shared that their family is writing their memoir or to share a poignant story from their past. They are from all walks of life, from all over the world, all ages and genders and I feel so humbled that Kalyna has touched them in a way they feel compelled to share their own stories with me. Favorites include a couple that had just recently immigrated to Drumheller and who came to a reading and shared their experiences which parallelled those of Katya and Wasyl over a century earlier. Another was a gentleman at the Ukrainian Village who shared that the worst part of his childhood was clearing the land on his family farm, picking rocks everyday afterschool with his brothers and sisters and father. He couldn’t wait to get away from that farm and move to the city. It took him some years, he said, but those days on the family farm were regarded as the “best days” of his life. Speaking at a junior high school in Calgary was also incredibly humbling. Here I met young people engaged in an exploration of social justice issues that would guide them, lead them to questions and invite them to action to create a world that they wanted to live in.
3. Who/what is your biggest inspiration for writing?
I have many inspirations for my writing including family history and news stories, but most of all my inspiration has been Joan Clark. She is my mother in law and without her generosity of opening her home in Newfoundland to me when I took a leave of absence from teaching, I believe there would be no Kalyna. Joan always encouraged me as I shared my many stories with her over many years. I had written articles for magazines, and dabbled in poetry, but wanted to tell the story of Kalyna and the Ukrainian internment that was inside of me for so long. Joan enabled me to do this with her generous spirit. She is an incredible writer who uses landscape as a character in her novels and I sought to do the same with Kalyna. The prairie and kalyna bushes become a source of food and comfort to the Federchuk family, the elk and falcon their protectors. Joan has not only encouraged me with Kalyna but pushed me to write my next novel and more poetry and to find time to continue writing even as a full time teacher.
After the interview, I definitely feel more inspired and confident to present my own writing. I’ve always felt insecure about others reading my work, but Clark explained (through her own experiences) how it’ll be worthwhile. Describing her inspirations, the humbling aspects of being an author, and how her work has touched the lives others also inspired me. Though what really impacted the me the greatest was how her story of immigrants beginning a new life in a Ukrainian settlement of Western Canada caused some many people to share their own family’s history with her — because after researching her work, I felt the exact same way and proceeded to share my own family’s story with her.