May Lui is a Toronto-based writer who is mixed-race, anti-racist, feminist and an all-around troublemaker. She blogs at maysie.ca, ranting and raving at any and all injustices and uses the f-bomb regularly. She’s been published in the Toronto Star, Fireweed Magazine, Siren Magazine, in the anthology With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, at section15.ca and rabble.ca. Contact her email@example.com
BCP: Why poetry?
ML: I write poetry to use few words to express feelings. I think of poetry as a challenge, to write something, about love let’s say, in a way that hasn’t been written in quite that way before.
BCP: What is your process?
ML: Sometimes I’m inspired by a particularly strong feeling that must be written, and it must be in poetic form, not prose, and not from that cognitive brainy place that is so comfortable for me. Other times I have a deadline. There’s a writing exercise in which you describe sounds, smells, touch, what you see around you. Some of my better poetic writing comes from that.
BCP: How long have you been writing poetry?
ML: I’ve been writing poems for years, but only started reading my work in public about 10 years ago.
BCP: Who are your influences?
ML: I love modern Canadian fiction, so Dionne Brand, Wayson Choy, Elizabeth Ruth, Farzana Doctor.
BCP: Your writing is life based and challenging. What do you try to convey to your readers?
ML: I try to convey my experiences as experiences that we all have. Love, lust, loneliness, humour, anger at injustice.
BCP: You’ve blogged for years and you’ve written for rabble.ca regularly. What compels you to place fingers on a keyboard?
ML: I have a lot of smart-assed opinions and enjoy expressing them verbally and in written form. I’m passionate about the world, and how fucked up it is, and the moments of beauty that can happen as well, a gorgeous phrase, an unpublished writer I love who I only get to see reading at events, and everything in-between.
BCP: How did FIREWEED #75: The Mixed Race Issue come to be?
ML: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, one of the co-editors, approached Fireweed about guest editing an issue on mixed- race women. She, Lisa Amin and I worked together for almost a year, on a volunteer basis, to do the call-out, review submissions, select the pieces, decide the order, and make the deadline. It was fun, tiring, and an amazing experience.
BCP: As co-editor of FIREWEED #75: The Mixed Race Issue what were you looking for?
ML: The call-out was very broad, we wanted to reach as many people as possible. As mixed race women we’re used to straddling and challenging boundaries and preconceptions of other people, so we opened up the definitions of both “women”, “mixed” and “race” to reach many possible contributors. It was a pleasure to read of the many different ways women were expressing their identity as mixed race.
BCP: How long was the editing process? Did you enjoy it? Would you do it again?
ML: I did enjoy it, and would for sure do it again. Deciding on the order, something I thought would be really difficult, wasn’t at all. I remember the three of us just agreeing pretty much on everything, and the pieces, by theme, length, genre, just fell into place, looking random, but really falling together in a really great way.
BCP: You wrote about being in a mixed race women’s writing group. How was that experience different than a regular writing group? Did you feel you grew in that setting? If so, how? Although it was a mixed race women’s writing group was it still hard to build trust and share your writing with the group?
ML: The writing group came about from a 4-week course at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore in the late 1990s, a course on mixed race women’s fiction writing, which was taught by Camile Hernandez Ramdwar, a writer I first read in Miscegenation Blues, a book that has had a huge influence on my life and identity as mixed race. We all went out after the final class for a coffee, and decided to start a writing group. We met for about 3 years in total, quite a long time, and for a while it was just me and one other woman.
BCP: There have not been many anthologies or journals focused on mixed race issues. Miscegenation Blues came before FIREWEED #75: The Mixed Race Issue and Mixed Tongues has recently come out. There seems to be an 8 to 9 year gap between such important projects. Why do you think that is?
ML: I’m not sure. I know there’s a lot of amazing material coming out of the US, and Mixed Race Studies departments are springing up in a few universities there. I think that we, mixed folks, go through different waves and times in which we struggle with our mixed identities, but someone needs to take a chance, and pitch an idea to an editor or a publisher to make something happen. I think it’s also important to note that Miscegenation Blues was published by Sister Vision Press, a small Canadian press run by a woman of colour. Fireweed was a small, Canadian quarterly journal. Sometimes really wonderful and radical stuff comes from the small presses.
BCP: Has anything changed in terms of mixed race issues since you put the journal out? Do you still get the same problematic questions?
ML: Not much has changed. Since I’m older now, most people have “nicer” ways of being “polite” or “enthusiastic” about my racial identity. And yes I still get the same questions, and “what are you?” tops the list, and always will. It’s funnier to me now, since I know that the question is about the asker, and not about me. But don’t get me wrong, it can still tick me off and start a rant.
BCP: You write about identifying as white for much of your life. How did you start identifying as a woman of colour?
ML: I don’t identify as a woman of colour. I identify as mixed race, and sometimes I will say “light skinned mixed race”. Most of my professional work for the past 15 years has been with understanding and recognizing privilege. I think to call myself a woman of colour, when I’m fairly light-skinned and continue to be assumed to be white by the majority of white folks that I meet, to call myself a woman of colour is to identify with an experience that I haven’t really had. I’ve been harmed very little by racism in my life, and it allows me to do anti-racism work in particular ways.
BCP: What are you working on now?
ML: You’ve inspired me to work on grant applications for both Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council. I have a book, an anti-oppression primer, that’s been simmering for a number of years. I’ve started to write it, and it’s going to be funny, smart, engaging and will hopefully be used as a way to introduce people to understanding oppression, privilege and all that fun stuff.
BCP: When do you expect to have your own collection of poetry, or book, published?
ML: I haven’t given up on that dream, but at this point it’s very far in the future in terms of reality. I will shout from the rooftops when (not if!) it happens.
BCP: What do you want the mixed race and non-mixed race communities to get from hearing you read your writing?
ML: I want to be heard, from my voice, sharing my experiences, whether that’s something painful, like racism or sexism, or something such as falling in love. I want to add my voice to the amazing voices and writers out there already.
BCP: What advice do you have for mixed race writers out there who are having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?
ML: Take a chance. Read for the first time. Share your work, even just with friends. Be bold. And write sexy stuff, that’s always a hit.
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Friday May 13, 2011 for a video of May Lui reading her poem in FIREWEED #75: The Mixed Race Issue.