Andrea Hairston, a professor at Smith College, will be the morning keynoter at tomorrow’s WriteAngles conference. She was interviewed by Jean Marie Ruiz.
When and how did you know that you were a writer?
When I was growing up in the 50’s I intended to be a theoretical physicist or a mathematician. But I come from a family of storytellers, big talkers, and tall tale tellers. Nobody in my family ever knew when to shut up. In college on the way to a physics major, I shifted to theatre and writing and directing plays. I love the theatre and the possibilities of live performance, yet there were always stories that I wanted to tell that called out for a different form. So in 1995, I decided to become a novelist.
How do you first conceive of your novels and plays? Do they start with an abstract idea, a character, a setting, a memory, a \”what if?\” question, or . . .?
I start with an idea or a question or characters talking to me. A poem.
What made you decide to write your first novel, MINDSCAPE?
Actually I wrote several novels before MINDSCAPE. In 1995, I decided to write science fiction and fantasy novels while a guest professor teaching African American Women’s Theatre at the Universität Hamburg. I wrote WILDERNESS, an unpublished novel, and then in 1999 I started MINDSCAPE, a story in the same world as WILDERNESS. I had been to conferences in Germany and the US where so many people were eulogizing Africa, proclaiming her demise, mourning the impossibility of any sort of African survival. Africa had to become European as quickly as possible – dump African languages, spiritual traditions, etc.
Also a mathematician said to me, “What difference does it really make that we losing indigenous languages in America? Sad, but what do they offer us? No future in those languages.”
I wanted to imagine something else.
The colonized enter science as refugees from their magical worlds – prisoners of superstition, hostages of the colonizer, slaves of the master narrative. Modernity and post-modernity, although products of colonialism, displace the colonized to the past, to history, to people who once were whole and have now been shattered by their backwardness, their poor competitive adaptation, their lack of science and democracy, their inept economics. The colonizers have consumed the colonized and define the future. So caught up in the past, still trying to survive history, how can the colonized imagine a future? How can a future be imagined that contains the remnants of their broken spirits? This is the kind of challenge I like as a writer.
How do science and art and imagination intersect in your work?
I am everything I am all at once. My writing reflects that.
What is your latest creative project?
THE MASTER OF POISONS – a novel which I just sold and should be coming out soon! Also, Episodes From the Continuing Drama of Cinnamon Jones: Scientist, Artiste, and Hoodoo Conjurer, a play. I’ll be presenting a reading of the play 7:30, November 30, at Smith College.