Some thoughts on reading “An Interview with Larissa Lai”

CWILA interviews editor Brecken Hancock offers an introduction to “An Interview with Larissa Lai” by Gillian Jerome and Meredith Quartermain, originally published July 4th, 2013. Read the interview here.

There are a couple of things that make for an ideal interview: an interviewer who is intimately familiar with her subject’s work, who can cultivate that knowledge into pertinent, robust questions, and an interviewee who is willing to be expansive and frank. This interview with Larissa Lai conducted by Gillian Jerome and Meredith Quartermain represents just such an ideal, demonstrating the intellectual and inspirational possibilities unlocked through attentive conversation. Jerome’s and Quatermain’s insightful questions act as catalysts for Lai’s nuanced answers, providing Lai the leverage to delve extensively into issues pertaining to social justice and Canadian critical culture.

What excites me most about this interview is the perspective that Lai offers when discussing CWILA’s work—Lai offers words of encouragement and support for CWILA’s mandate while helpfully troubling notions of “fast information,” as exemplified by our yearly pie charts. Lai states, “[if CWILA] can use pie charts to quickly and succinctly show the extent of the problem, then it can potentially propel a broader community into at least thinking about if not rectifying the problem. But this must be only part of the work because what gets lost along the way is an awful lot of complexity—all the debate, arguing, contention and thought that we say we want in book culture. So I think you are being very wise in making sure that there are lots of interviews and essays on the CWILA site in addition to the count.” This comment strikes me as both laudatory and cautionary: it is important to remember that the difficult work of fighting for safe and equitable spaces for women does not end with a statistical snapshot, or even a collection of longitudinal snapshots.

The work that CWILA does will only be furthered by the kind of self-reflexivity that Lai encourages, and I feel privileged to volunteer for CWILA because it is polyphonic, open to debate, ever-questioning, and active on quantitative and qualitative fronts simultaneously. We continue to have work to do and I think that, as an organization, we’ve signalled that we’re open to furthering that work—both in initiatives such as this year’s expanded count and in panel discussions such as that held this past March at the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice—“CWILA and the Challenge of Counting for Race.” It’s not clear what the path is, exactly, to equity in gender and racial representation in Canadian critical discourse, but conversations such as this one with Jerome, Quartermain, and Lai are crucial to expanding the dialogue, and thus the awareness, necessary to continue to, as Lai says, “work on the narrative of what equality, justice, rights or voice might mean and what they might look like.”

Read the interview with Larissa Lai here.


Brecken-Hancock_150-bwBrecken Hancock’s poetry and essays have appeared in Grain, CV2, The Fiddlehead, PRISM, Arc, and Studies in Canadian Literature. Originally from Middle Lake, Saskatchewan, she’s since lived in Fredericton, Reykjavik, and Kyoto. Her chapbook Strung appeared with JackPine Press in 2005 and her first full-length manuscript of poems, Broom Broom, was published with Coach House Books in 2014.

Published October 23, 2014.

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