Vancouver Writers Fest: andrea bennett

Interview by 
Isabella Wang
Author photo of andrea bennet on the playground with their son.

From October 19-25, the Vancouver Writers Fest inspires 40+ events with local and international writers. As they write, “Words shape our worlds. They can delight, inspire, provoke, comfort and unite—as do the authors, journalists and poets who wield them.” In anticipation of the festival, I have sat down with several of the festival authors over email, to hear about their books, what it means to be a writer in the present moment, as well as the things that they are most looking forward to.  

ROOM: Hello andrea, thank you so much to take the time to join me in this space. First of all, how are you feeling in your body? With less than a week leading up to the festival, what excites you? 

andrea: Thanks, Isabella! My body, since March, has sustained a relatively high hum of anxiety. My stomach often hurts and my back does, too. I feel best after I’ve done some sweaty cardio, or worked in my garden for a while, enough so that some of my muscles are sore from work instead of worry. But that’s unrelated to the festival: in terms of the festival, I’m looking forward to it! I’m set to be on a panel with Cicely Belle Blain, Jillian Christmas, and Lorna Crozier, moderated by Ivan Coyote. That’s a pretty stellar line-up. I’m frankly looking forward to listening more than I am to talking.

ROOM: Will this be your first virtual performance this year? What does it mean to you to be situated in the current moment—both as a community citizen and as a writer—sharing your words to an online community of audiences? 

ab: It’ll be my second. I’m so impressed with what festival organizers and event organizers and panelists and readers have been able to pull off this year, given all the constraints. I have to say that I’d rather be doing events in person—I appreciate getting the energy from the room, and it’s definitely a huge shift to learn how to perform for the computer, hoping that everyone tuning in is connecting with what I’m reading, rather than taking their real-time feedback as a given. But I’ve also seen that people really appreciate how much more accessible online readings can be. So I hope we can carry some spirit of that part of the pandemic year forward. And I hope I can offer something that still feels warm and genuine and connected.

ROOM: Your book of essays, Like a Boy but Not a Boy, recently came out with Arsenal Pulp Press. Congratulations! Will you tell us   a little bit about the writing of this book? It’s story? How does it feel to have a book out in the world? 

ab: Thank you! I began writing notes towards this book while commuting back and forth between Surrey and Vancouver, when my kid was about five months old. My commute was about three hours round-trip, and I found it overwhelming. But when I managed to snag a seat on the bus or the Skytrain, I’d open my notebook and write about everything that was on my mind in terms of work, gender, class, mental illness, and parenting. Everything I was thinking and feeling. All the tiredness and hope and drudgery.

It feels both exhilarating and somewhat terrifying to have LABBNAB out in the world. I’d be curious to know how many writers feel both drawn to write and share their writing with others, but then also drawn to hide and recede. I feel grateful to have been given the opportunity to publish this book. I hope I’ve done the essays justice. I would occasionally like to hide and recede.

ROOM: So much of your book converges upon the liminal indentures of the body: body as space and a mini task force; body as home; as parent; beyond the brackets of society’s heteronormative views and the gender binary. I am most intrigued by how you manage to tie the mechanics of the body to the allegory of fixing up a bicycle. 

ab: I’m a visual and a tactile learner who spends a lot of time working in and with words, in sort of more abstract spaces. I’ve had a complicated time living in my body, sometimes feeling alienated from it, sometimes embodying it, sometimes becoming completely dissociated. For me, something like fixing a bike, or learning how to fix a bike, is also a path back into being present in my body. Truing a wheel asks me to be both physically present and mentally present. It asks both of those aspects of myself to arrive; if they don’t, I can’t connect with the wheel, I can’t true the wheel. Paying close attention and fixing something helps me attend to myself when prioritizing my bodily self is not something I necessarily make enough space for. 

ROOM: What are you thinking about right now?

ab: I volunteered for a community financial advisory committee in my town, and as of right this moment I’m thinking about how frustrating an experience it’s been so far, and ways in which it could perhaps be less frustrating and more productive.  

I’m also thinking about how settlers are currently setting fire to Mi’kmaw lobster fishing boats and cars in Nova Scotia. I am watching someone livetweet it and it’s an absolute travesty. This country is a deeply unjust place.

ROOM: What are some books that have really resonated with you lately? 

ab:I love Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. It’s basically a perfect book of essays. I took a long time reading it earlier this year because I just didn’t want it to end. I am loving Nancy Lee’s What Hurts Going Down. There are lines from John Elizabeth Stintzi’s Junebat still ringing around my head. 

andrea bennett is a National Magazine Award–winning writer and editor and the author of Like a Boy but Not a Boy (essays, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020), Canoodlers (poetry, Nightwood Editions, 2020), and travel guides to Montréal and Québec City.

Isabella Wang is the author of two poetry collections, On Forgetting a Language (Baseline Press 2019) and Pebble Swing (Nightwood Editions forthcoming 2021). Her poetry and prose have appeared in over 30 literary journals and four anthologies. She is the Editor for issue 44.2 of Room magazine. 

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