Fem: How long have you been writing? What makes writing important to you?
Lyndsay Kirkham: I have a visceral memory of running my hands over the faux leather covered journal my mother gave me when I was five years old. She was putting herself through nursing school as a single mother of two children and things had been pretty rough for us. She told me that a journal was a great place to store all of the thoughts and responses I had to what had been going on. It was in this journal that I started writing my first poetry, songs and little story snippets. Writing was initially about survival. Of course, as a child, I wouldn’t have articulated it using that language, but in retrospect and with rereading, it’s evident that I was sorting through what I was experiencing. The poverty, the long spaces of time away from my mother, the removal of my father from our lives, the constant relocation. These were all early themes in my writing. At close to 40, writing has become more of a conduit for engaging with social issues and my research interests (I am currently writing a novel about Margery of Kempe, a medieval lady mystic).
F: What’s your favorite genre of writing and why?
LK: I am a staunch lover of poetry, and I admit to being married to free verse but can’t ever say no to any of the more robust styles of the Early Modern Period. Edmund Spenser is my pole star as a poet. I constantly return to him, reminding myself that poetry is a genre for story telling, that characters can be as alive in a sonnet as a three thousand page novel (no offense Tolstoy).
F: You mentioned you are a feminist as well as a mother. How do you achieve work-life balance in terms of maintaining your commitment to feminist writing?
LK: The early years of parenting were an intensely challenging time for me. I stopped working in most every way. I committed to Attachment Parenting my child, which left almost zero time for writing or self-care. As a feminist this was an interesting experience, letting go of the personal freedoms and surrendering myself to my child. It forced me to reconsider the well used phrase: the personal is political, that’s for sure. My son is turning 6 years old and I am finally now in a place where I see our two identities as separate; my writing is again something I can give myself to freely.
F: You also teach creative writing in college. In what ways does feminism influence your teaching?
LK: My teaching fuels me. I have taught creative writing and English Lit to college students in their twenties and adult learners who have come back to school. It’s wonderful to see students of all ages so incredibly invested in their work and the work of others. Feminism impacts my teaching in the modes that I use to teach (democratic workshops vs teacher/student communication) and the materials that I bring into the classroom. I long ago tossed out the Norton approved canon and share with my students women writers, indigenous authors, the writings of people of colour. I believe that representation matters so much when people are just opening themselves up to sharing their art or working on their craft. They need to see themselves as experts, they need to find mentors, hereos and favourites. And, let’s be honest, Jane Austen isn’t going to cut it for everyone.
F: Do you find that teaching through a feminist lens is more challenging or controversial?
LK: It can be controversial. This year I used a lot of writing from and articles about sex workers in Canada. This upset some parents – but, if a student is in university or college, it’s not the parents that I need to worry about. I also used the Jian Ghomeshi case this last semester, and it was occasionally difficult to listen to students defend Ghomeshi, and support the rape culture that his case exemplifies. But, I can only offer these topics as discussion and present my side – in the classroom, Twitter is different 🙂
F: How does your past impact your writing as a feminist?
LK: I am a survivor of sexual assault. I am transparent about that. It has shaped a good deal of my non-fiction. I explore topics of rape and sexual assault through the metaphor of the early Canadian landscape and colonialism.
F: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
LK: To keep writing. To keep working your words as though they were a dough that needs shaping. There is an assumption that our stories, our poems, our personal essays deserve the same amount of attention as a tweet or a Buzzfeed article. You need to invest in your writing. You need to read. Read everything. Read stuff that you don’t like. Read stuff that makes you angry. Find your voice – not just as a writer, but as a person.
Learn more about Lyndsay Kirkham and read some thought provoking articles by following her blog, Syndications On The Rights of Women.