Carrianne Leung is a fiction writer and educator. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Equity Studies from the University of Toronto. Her debut novel, The Wondrous Woo (Inanna Publications), was shortlisted for a Toronto Book Award. Her collection of linked stories, That Time I Loved You, was released in March 2018 by HarperCollins Canada.
INTERVIEW WITH CARRIANNE LEUNG
Q: That Time I Loved You is a collection of linked stories. Did you have the story structure mapped out before you sat down to write? Or did the structure reveal itself through the writing process?
A: I didn’t start out with the intention of writing linked stories. I had written a version of the first story Grass a few years ago and always felt pulled back to it, feeling like there was something else there to do. I didn’t know if it was going to become a novel. When I revisited it, I realized that there were many characters that I wanted to explore in this small neighbourhood, and so I just followed my instincts and before I new it, I had these linked stories. I didn’t write them in the order that they appear. I pursued characters and was delighted that they would emerge in each others’ stories. Organizing them in the timeline and order in the collection came much later.
Q: Recently, Scarborough has been the setting in other Canadian books (Catherine Hernandez’s Scarborough; David Chariandy’s Brother). What do you think is it about Scarborough that draws writers like yourself to write about this Canadian suburb?
A: I get asked this at every interview. David, Catherine and I have become the Scarborough triplets. I don’t know why. I have talked to David about this more than I have with Catherine, but I know David and I both grew up in Scarborough in the 70’s and 80’s. As writers, I think we reflect a lot on our own lives. For me, that reflection happens in the specific setting of this suburb of Toronto. The Scarborough I describe no longer exists, and I wanted to capture it to ground a particular experience of what it felt like to be a person of colour (especially a child) in that context. Perhaps this is what we mark in these three books: three writers who have come to their own to describe a place where we emerged even as this emergence was difficult. For me, it was about being marginal in an already marginal place.
Q: What book in the Canadian literary canon do you think is a must-read? And why?
A: First, I would like to do away with the idea of a national “canon” entirely. I feel the notion of CanLit is one that should never be presumed, but one that should always be contested. CanLit, like Canada, is marked with inclusion/exclusion and erasures. This has historically been so, and I take literature very seriously as integral to cultural life. While there have been such a beautiful explosion of writers from communities that we have not heard from enough lately, I still think we have a long way to go. Having said that, I feel tremendously fortunate to be writing in the same moment as contemporary fiction writers and poets like Cherie Dimaline, Sharon Bala, Canisia Lubrin, Eden Robinson, Djamila Ibrahim, Vivek Shraya, Phoebe Wang, Melanie Mah, Katherena Vermette, Larissa Lai, Gwen Benaway, Joshua Whitehead, Amber Dawn, Ayelet Tsabari, and of course, David and Catherine! Oh my god…there is so much brilliance happening right now, and I can go on and on. In other words, screw the canon. Read all this deliciousness and let them take you where they may.