BadRep Talks To: Ivan Coyote
11th Apr 2011
The blurbs for Missed Her, and most reviews, you’ll note, if you look for them, are united in the language they choose to describe her work. “Warm” comes up the most. Embracing, too. Missed Her, you will be told, “traverses love, gender, and identity with a wistful, perceptive eye”.
Hand on heart, if you believe nothing else today, believe the blurbs. They’re bang on the money. They not only describe exactly what happens when you read Ivan’s work, they nail her whole modus operandi really well – and that warmth, which she carries with her when she writes, teaches and performs, is one I believe we can learn from.
We try hard over on BadRep to balance our rants with positive affirmations, to push for change in small ways by looking for the good stuff, and making people laugh. We try not to let injustice get us down, even as it drives us round the bend, and in Missed Her we felt we’d found a kindred spirit.
Hailing from the Yukon Territory in Canada, Ivan is an oral storyteller as much as a writer. Missed Her (surely a pun on “mister”, as the stories often return to the theme of (mis)gendering as much as the emotions of “missing” someone) is a collection of stories about her life on the road, her live storytelling gigs, her family history and the voices of the people she meets – queer, straight, trans*, butch, femme, all part of a live, endless flow of stories and narratives. Read her books out loud, and then watch her tell her stories:
There’s something mesmerising about the way she tells them, a beautiful, lyrical, landscaping sense that these stories, even as they reach out specifically to people who often get shoved off the page – are for everyone.
After haring through it, laying aside the odd five minutes for a misty Kleenex moment, I threw the book (sometimes literally) at as many members of Team BadRep as possible.
Here’s what we asked her:
BR: I definitely felt when I read Missed Her that it was part of a tradition of storytelling – and I wondered what your view is of blogging as a cultural phenomenon.
I know it’s hardly ‘oral history’ strictly speaking, but for me blogging is a way for me to find other people’s stories in a new way. I wondered whether you think of it in anything like this way, and how you see storytelling evolving, if at all, in the 21st century?
IC: I definitely see blogging as a form of storytelling, and I feel like blogging has levelled the field in some ways in terms of access to the public. We definitely live in exciting times in terms of the democratisation of access to the world’s media.
That said, I feel like there is a live element to actual live storytelling that is important, and even YouTube cannot fully replace the magic that is live storytelling. Being in the room and thus part of the telling of a live story. This cannot be replicated or replaced by blogging or video. There is something immediate and involved and organic about it.
BR: We’ve seen your work described a lot as “warm”, “open-arms, “embracing” and so on, all of which we agree with. From your work I get a real sense of determination and resolve, but not so much the guns-blazing fury and anger that characterises a lot of activism.
I think different approaches are a great and useful thing – but it made me wonder: were you angrier when you were younger about the kinds of discrimination that are out there? Do you think we need to put our anger aside a bit more, to deal with the issues that divide us – prejudice, homophobia, ciscentrism – more effectively?
IC: I think almost everyone is “angrier” when they are younger. That anger can sometimes be a very positive motivating force for activism and involvement and movement for change.
That said, I feel like my life is generally more balanced and happy when I engage other emotions, such as love and compassion and empathy, and harness these as the driving forces for my own creative instincts.
I feel like as my audience grows and becomes more and more populated by people who do not look think or live exactly as I do, then the more important it becomes for me to build a politic of inclusion with regards to my readers/listeners/audience.
I am finding that the most powerful way for me to connect with people who might live very different lives than mine is not to tell them how different we are from each other, but for them to see something of themselves in me, to find elements of my own story that resonate with theirs.
Anger seems to have less and less to do with this process, for me as an artist anyway. I am not saying anger is not a part of the reason I tackle the issues I do in my work, but it is less and less a motivator.
BR: I’ve really enjoyed watching you read (via YouTube, at least, since we’re UK-based) and I love the rhythms and read-aloudability inherent in your writing.
Do you find yourself writing differently for print as against for speaking? Do you change stuff when you know you’re going to perform it out loud, rework it maybe? Or do you start with the spoken, then change it for print?
IC: I have always had live performance be a huge part of my work, so it is often hard for me to define where imagining a sentence live starts and a putting a sentence down on the page begins. They are part of the same chemistry experiment, for me.
BR: I’ve noticed a lot of other short blog-interviews ask you for “advice to budding writers”. How about budding live storytellers? Any tips for anyone getting into the kind of speaking gigs you do? (Prepare to small-talk with a lot of slam poets, possibly…)
IC: There is really only one way to home your live storytelling skills, and that is by getting out there and doing it. Open mics, cabarets, campfires, all of it. I still learn something every gig, never fail.
And finally, the all-predictable question!
BR: Ever been to Europe with your work – and if so do you think it’ll happen again any time soon?
IC: I was in Germany for a storytelling festival last October, I have been to Amsterdam and Wales for gigs before, and the German translation of my novel was just released. I hope to do a lot more touring in Europe in the next couple of years.
Let’s hope the UK gets a look-in… but in the meantime, do judge this book by its cover. Buy it, read it, and tell your friends. Go!
Guest interview by Bad Reputation. Want more from Bad Rep? Check out the website.