Excited About Everything: Whitney French

Interview by 
Isabella Wang
Whitney French

A series in which Isabella is excited about everything that is happening at Growing Room 2019, so she sat down with some festival authors to hear about their work, and what events they are most excited to take part in. Learn more about the 2019 Growing Room festival by visiting our website, festival.roommagazine.com.

Whitney French is a writer and arts-educator. Her latest project Black Writers Matters is an anthology of creative nonfiction published through the University of Regina Press.

ROOM: Hello Whitney, how are you? First of all, the anthology that you edited, Black Writers Matter, just came out with University of Regina Press this spring. How exciting is that? Let this be a space for you to take some time to reflect. How did this anthology come to be? And, how does it feel now that it’s finally out there?

WF: Hi Isabella, I’m doing alright, yes many, many people are excited for the Black Writers Matter anthology including the contributors. It’s been hard to put into words the wave of emotions around the collection, each day I feel different about it: excited, proud, anxious, overwhelmed and then excited again. The project, I feel, has been in constant flux from accessing the submissions from the call out, to developing a shape for the work. Again, hard to put into words — but the process of working with contributors has been by far my greatest joy. Far beyond the excitement of the publication, it’s the moments of intimate editorial grunt work with a fellow writer, carving the fat, or excavating deeply into the writing in front of us. As one of the contributors Sapphire Woods explained, the experience of working with a Black editor was that of “being believed”. Now that it is out, I know I’m supposed to say I feel great and amazing and thrilled it out in the world, but editing was truly the part I enjoy the most.

ROOM: This anthology invites both emerging and established writers to come tell and share their narratives, and offers a space for these writers to talk about many pressing matters and issues that are present in the literary scene. I’m sure this anthology will resonate deeply with its readers, but I’m interested to know what you are hoping to get out of it. What conversations are you hoping to raise?

WF: I want to spark conversations that aren’t often spoken about, particularly and especially on the page. Or perhaps conversations that are ones we often keep tight to the chest and rarely share, or other stories we were told aren’t valuable. The hope is for people to be aware of kind of Blackness that balances both the realities of anti-black racism and unwavering Black joy.

ROOM: I’d love to hear about some of the pieces in this anthology. Go ahead and give the contributors a heart-warming shout-out.

WF: Thank you for saying a shout-out and not “your favourites” that’s the kind of talk that gets an editor in trouble. Where to begin? One of the most striking and unique pieces in the collection is by Rowan McCandless who chronicles her journey of struggling with an eating disorder. The format of the essay is that of a pop quiz. Another exceptional piece is Rachel Zellers who fearlessly tackles the legacy of sexual violence in her family. Oh, some many gems glow in the collection like the work of Mary Louise McCarthy researching gravesites of her ancestors in New Brunswick which, echoes a point of haunting that is investigated from a different angle in Délice Mugabo’s writings on racism in Quebec. Plus, it would be remiss not to talk about the interviews: the round-table discussion with Afro-Indigenous youth and the interview with a Senegal-born cab driver in Terrace, BC.

ROOM: I’d love to hear more about your own writing. What are some things that you are currently working on? What are your hobbies outside of writing?

WF: Currently I’m writing very very slowly post-book. They don’t tell you that intensive editing does a number on your own craft. I am interested in speculative fiction and poetry but terms of my own projects, I’ve been slowly carving out a novel. My most immediate project is Whitney Wellness: where I read and eat good food, and drink hot tea and take good care of myself.

I am not sure if this is a hobby so much as it is a practice, but I enjoy long uninterrupted walks. In a park, in a forest, in a field, somewhere within the context and relations of nature. It resets me, especially being someone currently living in a big city like Toronto, those walks work wonders.

ROOM: As a young writer, I’m always interested to hear others’ stories. How did you come to writing? When did you know? Who were the people/mentors that helped you get here?

Black Writers MatterWF: I was fascinated with stories for as long as I can remember. Reading loads of books as a kid, and I had a really gentle and considerate second-grade teacher Mrs. Hamilton who told me what, in fact a writer was. I write about it in the introduction of the anthology actually. It’s been pretty clear since then what I wanted to do. And I’ve been incredibly blessed to have a number of formal mentors: Wendy “Motion” Braithwaite, M. NourbeSe Phillip and David Chariandy as well as brilliant informal peer-mentors and supports: Gwen Benaway, Carrianne Leung, Canisia Lubrin, Alicia Elliot so so many others. Folks from the Writing While Black crew who’ve written with me, supported the movement, come through to events and squad through hard. And that’s the WWB crew in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Such a feeling to get love from multiple cities. I’ve had a fierce community of writers, readers, community members, believers, family and friends who’ve had my back and gave that six-year old Whitney the push to get to this place. It’s pretty remarkable.

ROOM: Besides Black Voices Raised, we have you featured in the panel, “Invisible Womxn” and you will also be facilitating the workshop, “Writing While Black.” But tell me, what are some other events that you are most keen on attending?

WF: So excited for Indigenous Brilliance, and so so keen for A Chrysalis of Being Workshop. I’m super sad to miss Behind Every Microphone, There’s a Great Woman panel, I have been flirting with radio and audio storytelling for a minute and this looks very exciting.

ROOM: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me, Whitney. I’m so excited to have you for Growing Room 2019! 

Isabella Wang’s debut poetry chapbook is forthcoming with Baseline press in 2019. At 18, she is the youngest two-time finalist and writer shortlisted for The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest. Her poetry and prose have appeared in over a dozen literary journals, and she holds a pushcart prize nomination in poetry. She studying English and World Literature at SFU, interning at Room Magazine, serving as the Youth Advocate for the BC Federation of Writers, and co-ordinating the bi-weekly Dead Poets Reading Series.

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