Revisiting The FOLD With Amanda Leduc

It’s been a month since the Festival of Literary Diversity in Brampton (FOLD), but we’re still reeling from all of that writing and great authors visiting our city. We had the chance to sit down with Communications Coordinator and award winning author, Amanda Leduc to talk about this year’s Festival, intersectionality, mental health and impostor syndrome.

What was this year’s festival like for you?

It was magical–just like last year, but somehow even more so this time around. Maybe that’s because I had more of an idea of what to expect this time, so there was an even higher degree of anticipation and excitement in the days leading up to the festival, and a real sense of delight and recognition when the festival began—yes, we are here again, and it’s just as wonderful as before. It was likewise wonderful to see returning faces—and new ones!  Our sessions were packed and that was a lovely feeling–both as an organizer and as an author myself. The authors all seemed happy and excited to be there, and I was once again grateful for the opportunity to help showcase their work, and remind everyone of the importance of these stories.

What were a few of your favourite moments?

The Opening Gala was swanky and so much fun (I loved the return of the mac n’ cheese bar in particular), and being able to meet so many of the authors that I’d been corresponding with in the months leading up to the festival felt really special. It was so nice to get to hug people in person! The biggest highlight for me, though, without a doubt, was getting to meet and interview Jen Powley, the author of JUST JEN. I was lucky enough to moderate Jen’s panel on the Saturday afternoon, and that experience will have a place among my most treasured memories.

What has it been like to have one novel published and be working on another with other of your works being so well received?

In some ways it’s been surprisingly difficult—when I published my first novel I got to transition from being the person who stays inside writing to suddenly being out there, in front of the world. It was lovely, but I had a huge case of imposter syndrome- by the time I really felt myself relaxing into talking publicly about the book, the promotion period for the book came to an end, and I went right back to my regular job, my regular life. I knew that was going to happen, of course. I objectively I understood that was how things worked but then when it actually happened I found that I didn’t quite know how to manage it, and myself in the process.

I think I thought that moving on to the next book would be easier. You’ve written one, so you can write another. Right? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? But when you put that first book out into the world there are no expectations.Once it comes out, whether people consciously realize it or not—whether you consciously realize it or not—there’s this sense that now you’re expected to write certain things or look at the world in a certain way. I was so worried about writing something that would be received well, and when I wrote my first novel I was just worried about writing something that would be received at all—which feels much simpler! But even more than this, I think I was worried that I was a one-trick pony—that I’d written one novel but didn’t have it in me to write another, or at least another novel that was any good.

If someone came to you and you could tell that they were feeling similar things, what would you tell them or even yourself as you were going through it?

I’d tell them not to focus on what the work may or may not turn out to be, and to focus instead on the work itself, the day-by-day of it, and getting back into a space where you just enjoy writing. I struggled with a novel for a number of years after MIRACLES came out, and most of that writing was really difficult. One of the things that saved me was making the decision to set that novel aside, even if only temporarily, and go back to writing short stories. The novel I’d been working on was a sequel-of-sorts to MIRACLES, and I wanted to make sure that it would sell, that I would find a home for it. Every time I sat down to work on it I would catch myself thinking, “But what it a publisher doesn’t like that? Or this? What if it goes nowhere?”

But for whatever reason—perhaps because I’d been told time and time again that short story collections weren’t selling anyway—I didn’t feel that way with the short stories. There was none of that pressure. And because there was no pressure I really allowed myself to be extra strange with them, and as a result really enjoyed the process of writing them and feeling them come together. Connecting with those short stories put me back in touch with that part of writing. And so, if someone said they felt the same things as I did, that’s what I would encourage them to do, whether it be short stories or essays, or articles or another novel- just find something you enjoy writing and doing, and focus on that for a while so you can remember what it is about writing that you love, because it can be something that’s so easy to lose.

Have you found that as you moved through your life, through different stages and levels of awareness, your writing has changed with you?

Absolutely. I remember Zadie Smith once saying in an interview that she couldn’t bear to look at “White Teeth” anymore, despite the fact that it made her a literary star at 25. She said that it made her cringe, that she saw so many things in her writing then that she wouldn’t do anymore. I found that so interesting because it really speaks to the progression that happens within one’s writing self. What’s static, and what’s continually changing? Each piece that you put out into the world is itself static and stationary in a way, but as a whole, when you add them together, they make this larger, shifting body of work that grows in tandem with you. I find it fascinating.

Is there anything that you look back on and relate to in what Zadie Smith talked about and said? Were there pieces of work that you look back on and cringe like Smith mentioned?

I tend to be more charitable towards my non-fiction essays and short stories, but for the most part avoid reading work that’s already been published. I’d rather just focus on the next thing that’s coming, which also speaks to the possibility of that thing being slightly more exciting than the finished product itself. For me it always feels more exciting to be halfway through a new book when you feel the world you’re creating coming together. It’s shaping up but you also still have so much possibility ahead of you. It’s this rich, wonderful, creative stew. Then this book is finished and it’s out there in the world. For me it loses something because it’s not moving for you in the same way that it was when you were in the act of creating and bringing it to be.

Reading Muscle Memory was so powerful because you said, “But you are here, you are alive.” It was almost a declaration because for those who struggle with depression, it anchors them here.  I wondered about the juxtaposition between the large conceptualizations of how depression felt, down to the ordinary moments where you were talking about being on the porch as what anchored you to the present. Did you intend to write about depression like that?

Not at the time. Much of that period—this would have been back in the summer of 2015—still feels like a blur to me. I think I was trying to reach for something in the midst of my depression, and the writing was a way to do that. But at the same time I didn’t know what I was reaching for. Part of the reason it took me so long to get help for my depression was because—ironically enough I worked at a psychiatric ward in a hospital. I would see people come into the ward every day who were catatonic and non-communicative, and I saw them and thought, you’re laughing with coworkers, talking to people and getting up and going to work. Clearly, things are not that bad for you. So clearly, you are not as sad as you think you are.

And yet I was also mindful the entire time of how it felt like I was playing a part doing what I had to do to get through the day just so I could go back home and sleep. I was carrying those two realities at the same time. And so when I think back to that period now, even though it was a blur, it also sharpened into moments that were hugely clarifying. Like those moments where I stood overwhelmed by sadness and yet nonetheless thought, you are here, you’re alive. I think I was aware of this on some level at the time, but couldn’t process it.

Muscle memory was written around the Summer of 2015. I was right at the end of the worst part of it. I know where that essay came from but I also don’t know where that essay came from at the same time. That whole time felt so raw and writing felt raw and not in the best way.

There’s something about the experience of depression that changes you so totally as a person. That could be part of what I was trying to do when I started writing about it, and juxtaposing those larger, overwhelming feelings alongside the ordinary—giving voice to the recognition that there was this huge existential change happening in my life, but it was occurring alongside all of the usual everyday things. I’m still feeling the waves of that now and it’s almost two years later.

One of the things you mentioned on the blog on your website is the concept of passing privilege in marginalized spaces. How has that felt for you and has it complicated your identities?

I feel a great deal of guilt about that passing privilege despite knowing I shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s impacted me especially since starting my work with The FOLD. I grew up white and middle class, and although I was disabled I could pass, for the most part, as able-bodied. I didn’t embrace the bisexual part of my identity until I was in my twenties. I was also very religious when I was younger and had this very boxed in idea of what it meant to be a person in the world, which gradually fell away. So I felt for a long time that I’d had it very easy, and as a result of having it easy I didn’t feel like I had a lot of relevant things to say despite the fact that I do have a claim to that public identity and those public conversations.

As someone who has cerebral palsy but who can also run, walk and get into spaces that abled people can get into, is it fair for me to claim that as part of my identity, to speak up about it when my ability to pass as able-bodied means that I don’t experience barriers in the same way? I can choose to not say that I’m bisexual or disabled and let it be an unspoken understanding and sink into the privileges that come from being straight and white. This is an option that a lot of people don’t have. And so the question that I struggle with is: How do you publicly claim those identities for yourself as a writer, if the invisible nature of these identities means that you are automatically afforded the privileges that so many others are denied?

And yet I’ve learned, in the past year of working with the FOLD, that in the literary sphere, it’s important—particularly where disabled writers are concerned—to self-identify precisely so that people who feel anxious about identifying can see that and recognize that it’s okay to talk about invisible disabilities. That disability—much like being queer—is a spectrum, and wears a thousand faces. I have learned—slowly, but I’m getting there!—that while I still struggle with the question of how much of myself to give away, there’s a sense of responsibility to at the very least be open to talk about these things if people ask me.

How do your intersecting identities show up in literary spaces?

My disabled identity is coming to the forefront more, specifically because I feel like the disabled community is, in a lot of ways, where the LGBTQ2+ community was many years ago. We’re still at the point of saying that we don’t want abled people to be telling disabled stories anymore and that we want to tell those stories on our own. Disabled people still have room to claim their own stories. I’ve been humbled and awed by many of the disabled writers doing advocacy work in Canada right now–Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Jane Eaton Hamilton, and Bronwyn Berg among them—and I hope to join my voice with theirs in whatever way I can.

Has being more open about your identities changed the projects that you take on or that you want to take on?

My non-fiction work tends to focus more on these identities, and thus my experiences of them. My time at The FOLD has, also as a whole, made me more aware of my experience as a diverse writer as well as the importance of writing things that can appeal to a wide range of people. How many young Black Canadian girls can say that they totally identify with Anne of Green Gables, for example? Her physical appearance is so integral to the book. Her life experiences too, in many ways, are very white.

A short time ago, the author (and FOLD alum!) Jen Sookfong Lee tweeted that she loves Anne as much as the next person, but that she’s tired of this idea that classic Canadian literature is supposed to be quaint and take place in very white PEI. (Or, as the case may be, in some wintry Northern Ontario town.) We need to stop thinking that this is the quintessential Canadian experience and start investing in other Canadian stories.

I read that you were on a panel with the International Festival of Authors in 2013. What was that like and what would you say to future panelists at The FOLD?

Maybe it sounds trite, but just to be themselves, and try to be in the moment with that panel or experience as it happens. There’s so much richness in Canadian literary culture, and I think the FOLD is a wonderful showcase for that—but even more so, it’s a showcase for the love and support that’s in the Canadian literary community as well. As a FOLD panelist, you’ll get to see that firsthand.

What projects are you working on next?

Well, now that the festival is over, we’ll be moving into grant reporting and new grant applications, so that’s going to take up most of the summer. I’ll have a bit more time to work on my own writing, though, which I’m very much looking forward to! I have a couple of projects on the go, namely a collection of short stories and a collection of personal essays. I’ve been neglecting them both for months, so the summer will be about getting back into those projects and really working through them again. I’m also hoping to publish a few shorter pieces over the coming months, so I’ll be working on those as well.

Can you share a bit about your new book?

Certainly! The new book is a novel called THE CENTAUR’S WIFE. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a woman who falls in love with a centaur during the end of the world. At this point, it’s looking like the book will hit shelves in the summer of 2018, so if all goes according to plan more information about the book will be available in the coming months.