The Writing University conducts is a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's fall residency. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
Today we are talking with Anne Kennedy, a fiction writer, screenwriter, poet from New Zealand.
1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?
I hope to finish a book of poetry sequences that I’ve had on the go for a while. The gist of it is, how do we go on, how do we think, act, imagine, in a world that is being destroyed ecologically? Even sitting at a desk writing about the subject is to be complicit, while greedy people deal environmental death blows. It’s easy to feel hopeless, but we can’t afford to. The thing about writing is, it imagines a future, so the act of imagining is so very important to affecting change.
Despite the graveness of this topic, I want to entertain, to write the kind of book I’d like to read, which is funny but serious. If we can’t laugh occasionally, we may as well keep on fracking.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
Coming on this residency, I have the sense of putting aside my real life, of being a different person.
This person has no teaching job, nor series of other little jobs. This person does not live in a falling-apart house filled with young adult children, nor with the spectre of losing the falling-apart house (long story). This person has no unruly bamboo taking over the garden, no rain sweeping in over the washing, no ungodly mess in the kitchen created by certain others. This person has no disturbing letters arriving in the mail, no dogs with rashes who need to go to the vet, no cats who have just caught a native bird. This person does not need to get hot under the collar on a daily basis when reading the New Zealand news. This person has only a few garments to choose from.
For this person, writing is first in the queue. Thank you, IWP.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
When I write poetry, I tend to bounce off other texts. At the moment, I am rereading The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura, which was first published in 1906 as an introduction to Japanese culture for a western audience. This is research for my poetry book (another long story). I am also reading *about* The Book of Tea.
Alongside this, I am reading about the phenomenon of hippydom. I grew up with these distinctly American ideals, in little New Zealand, and I’m very aware of being in the US at the most disrupted time since the sixties. The difference is that the sixties were about civil and human rights, and now is about removing them. But why *didn’t* the ideals of hippydom save us from where we are now? One of my texts is American Hippies, by W.J. Rorabaugh—which I checked out from the awesome University of Iowa library.
For pleasure, I am reading Swing Time, by Zadie Smith, a novel about friendship between girls (reminded me subject-wise of Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan novels’). I always love the way Zadie Smith tells stories with a kind of literary exuberance. There’s no one like her.
I’m a late-night audiobook addict. I often listen to books I read a long time ago. At the moment it’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy, read by Pamela Garelick (a good reader is very important) (and thank you, Auckland City Libraries). Hardy is all about his characters’ fatal decisions and deeds – he’s so Shakespearean.
4. What is one thing the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?
As a Pākeha (white New Zealander (although with Māori children)), I’m always concerned with the post-colonial situation. I shop around in terms of form and genre to suit the content of a project.
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
Sometimes people here think I come from Finland, but it’s just my accent – New Ziland. It’s actually at the bottom on the Pacific (it fell off the side of Australia quite a long time ago). There are four million people.
It’s beautiful and everything, and we make good cheese and wine and art.
Aotearoa New Zealand as a nation is based on a treaty between Māori, the indigenous people, and the English Crown. The treaty is complicated and has never been fully ratified. So, like most colonized places, Aotearoa New Zealand is occupied territory.
For the last thirty years, NZ has been under the influence of an encroaching and aggressive capitalism—like many countries. Now we have widespread poverty and homelessness.
On Sept 23, NZ is having a general election (I was able to cast a special vote from Iowa). I will on the edge of my seat hoping for a change of government.
Thank you, Anne!