Third Verb Interview

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Last week I sat down for a chat with Jessica Kluthe from Third Verb. I’ll be teaching Tell it with a Twist (memoir writing) this Thursday, September 29, for Third Verb, so we spoke about writing true stories and my book, Weaving a Malawi Sunrise. If you’re interested, you can still sign up by going to the Third Verb website.

Here’s our conversation:

What drew you to telling true stories?

People’s stories are precious, and if they go untold they can be lost. But stories have value historically, culturally, and emotionally. Stories help us connect to others’ experiences, which creates understanding. They remind us that we are all human.

What drew you to this particular story?

I met Memory Chazeza in 2006 when she came to speak at the Rotary District Conference in Stony Plain. I had been asked to photograph the event. I was captivated by her personal story.

Memory had been orphaned at a young age and grown up in poverty. In spite of the challenges, she never lost hope. She was determined to go to post-secondary school and support her family and her community. This seemed unrealistic for a woman living in rural Malawi, but Memory was determined, and ultimately she not only received a post-secondary degree, she built a school and now she is a role model for the young women of her country.

While this is a tremendous achievement, Memory’s journey was filled with obstacles. She often went hungry so that she could spend her days volunteer teaching at a nearby school. She was threatened with rape by men in her community, and initially she was called a “lazy girl” by her family.

I remember her saying, “The world is made for the stubborn” when recalling her life, and I thought, “How true that is.” It seemed that her story should be told, so I set out to tell it.

Did anything unexpected come out of traveling to Malawi and then writing Weaving a Malawi Sunrise?

On my travels, I met many women with incredible stories — each one more remarkable than the last. Their stories made me realize that we are all given hardships and challenges in our lives. It’s how we face these challenges that come to define us.

After taking on such a large creative non-fiction project, how has your writing practice evolved?

I’ve realized that anything is possible, but you must write in order to write. It may seem self-evident, but if we are going to write long works we must be disciplined enough to put our bums in our chairs, turn off social media and write! It really is a discipline thing, but completing a complex, multi-year project has reinforced what must be done and what can be accomplished.

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