Saturday, September 28, 2013

Interview Sessions: Volume 4.5

Meet Napatsi Folger.

When Napatsi Folger sent us the picture you see beside this sentence, she wrote (and we quote): "It is ridiculous. Like me." Now, we wouldn't necessarily call her "ridiculous," but that should give you a little hint as to her personality.

Napatsi is quicker to laugh than just about anyone we've ever met. It's a hearty, genuine guffaw, generally accompanied by a mischievous grin that instantly puts you at ease in her company. Her generous, amiable nature, however, is often at odds with her writing -- a contradiction that can catch those unfamiliar with her work off guard.

Napatsi comes from Iqaluit, in Canada's northern province of Nunavut, and her stories often bring a reader there. As she puts it in our interview, her work is "...honest and hard," covering "complicated issues." Napatsi never shies away from difficult realities in her fiction, instead choosing to meet the darker sides of life head-on: substance abuse, complicated relationships, and the struggles that come with living in some Northern communities are all dealt with in their turn. Her writing style, which often leans towards a stark realism, lends itself perfectly to the stories she tells. We are often left with raw portraits of raw people; real situations without easy answers. And yet, at the heart of it all, we find a celebration of the North, and of Inuit culture itself.

Survival, she says, is one of the most remarkable elements of Inuit culture. Not in a "noble kind of lame way the way people might think," she continues, "but really raw survival in the face of horrible shit." This resilience is on display in her stories, and readers can find themselves humbled by the struggles Napatsi's characters go through when they realize that her writing captures "what life is like in Iqaluit, for many of the people anyway."

In 2011, Napatsi published her first novel, Joy of Apex, a young adult novel about growing up in Nunavut, and in 2013, she has forthcoming pieces in both Matrix and The Walrus. Currently finishing her bachelor of arts at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, Napatsi's writing has nowhere to go but up from here. Read her answers to our interview questions below, and come see her at the reading this Sunday.


An Interview with Napatsi Folger: A Question of Survival.

1) To get the ball rolling: For any audience members who have never had the chance to read your work before, how would you describe it? (For bonus points: on this month’s theme of ‘natural forces,’ what would the weather forecast be on the day your work is being read?) 
I would describe my work as... honest and hard. I have been working really hard to make it reflect what life is like in Iqaluit, for many of the people anyway, and I have never really been able to get away from that sort of stark style. It's simple I guess, but covers complicated issues. And the weather for the day my work is being read would be cold and windy - my favourite. :)

2) Can you remember the first time a writer's work really reached out and grabbed you? If so, who were they, and what about their writing caught your attention? Are there any elements of it that you still find yourself chasing, in some way?
Yes, aside from the usual kind of growing up, kids stuff or high school classics like "Catcher in the Rye" the first author who really hit me was Eden Robinson. I read her novel "Monkey Beach" in a first year English Lit class in 2002. I was so shocked because it was the first time anyone had captured something I could relate to so fully. She wrote about her native community and life and struggles there which is why I guess it resonated with me. I had always (naively) assumed that I was alone in my struggles growing up, but she put it all down in one book so succinctly. I was blown away.

I was also impressed with how well she integrated gothic themes throughout her very realistic story. I have not been successful with that yet, I am very much a realist, and trying to delve into more fantastic ideas in my stories, especially short stories.

3) In your own work, are there any themes, images, or characters (etc.) that you find yourself drawn to, intentionally or otherwise? What are they? Why do you think they resonate with you? 
Yes, I didn't realize it really until you asked this question, but I think, and this is going to sound so corny, but my major theme that keeps cropping up is survival. It's one of the elements about Inuit culture that I've always respected, and one of the few things that I think is still really a strong aspect of Inuit culture. And I don't mean in a noble kind of lame way the way people might think, but really raw survival in the face of horrible shit. That's what I love about the north, is that you really see what humanity is capable of and how resilient people can be. I mean, it's not necessarily good, but I feel like my characters bring to life that constant battle of "cope or die" which so many Inuit and people around the world in general face everyday.

4) If there's one thing that you'd like people to feel when they read what you’ve written, or something that you’d like them to take away from your writing, what is it? 

 I always hope that people get a sense of the little things that keep my characters going despite the bad things that happen. I want people to enjoy the subtle humor or joy that punctuates (sometimes very little or rare moments in my stories I know) my writing. I hope that the darker parts of my subject matter don't overwhelm the sense in the story that life goes on and can still be joyous sometimes. That's my biggest concern when people read my stories.

5) Just for fun, give me a pairing: one of your favourite works/authors and one of your favourite beverages (alcoholic or not). Why do they go together? How do they complement one another?
Toni Morrison's Beloved and a hot cup of Earl Grey tea. I used to wake up early to read it before class and sit and sip tea. It's important to note that I never, ever, wake up early to do anything except when forced to travel.

6) Last question: give us a short (less than 75 words) third-person bio blurb about yourself which covers any awards/distinctions you're proud of and what you're tackling right now.
Napatsi Folger is in her last semester of a B.A.Degree at the University of Toronto which is making work on her short story collection very slow going. She's looking forward to this fall because she has two pieces of writing being published: a fiction story in Matrix Magazine, and a very brief memoir in The Walrus Magazine. In 2011 Napatsi published her first young adult novel, "Joy of Apex" about growing up in Nunavut.

1) What’s your desert island book/album/film?

Stephen T. Asma's "On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Greatest Fears"/Paul Simon's Graceland/ Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry

2) Which artist, living or dead, would you meet for lunch? 
Preston Sturges.

3) Which Toronto restaurant would you take them to?
Oh jeeze. Not knowing any good places besided sushi even though he would probably hate it I would take him to New Generation Sushi on Bloor @ Spadina. Mostly because I love sushi and I want to go there now.

4) Most underappreciated novel/short story out there, in your opinion?
Twilight... just kidding. I honestly have no answer for this. I have no gauge for how popular things are... I'm very out of touch and I have no problem with that.

5) Any chance you'll give us a little hint at what you'll be reading on the 29th?
Hmmm it's part of my short story collection about Iqaluit. It's got the word fire in it. Also, raven. Annnnd there's an angry man in it. Several in fact.

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