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 speaking with Clara CHOW 赵燕芬, a fiction and nonfiction writer and actor from Singapore.
1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?
I came here with plans to write an office novel that was about everything but the work, meant to be read at random. I also wanted to continue writing a bunch of lousy Chinese love poems (because I am an adolescent always in Chinese, having written professionally and creatively in English all my life). But since I got here, I've started at least five new projects. We're going on a mid-residency trip to New Orleans soon, and I will probably start new projects and collaborations there. It's a happy problem, making sure I eventually finish all of them.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
Back home, I worked best through the night, when it's really quiet. But here, on the other side of the world, I've become active in the day. I was so happy to find stuffed "diurnal owls" in the UIowa Museum of Natural History recently.
I alternate between 'writing days', where I stay in my room and turn my back on glorious weather, to slowly add sentences to a document - venturing out only after six to eight hours; when I run into fellow IWP writers in our hotel lobby, I don't even remember how to be civilised anymore - and 'fun days', where I go out and take advantage of everything Iowa City has to offer.
When I sit down and write, I try and hit 500 words before throwing in the towel. Any more is a bonus. I also have a Singaporean writer friend currently in Boston: we text each other every few days to start a writing session 'together'. "Let's do an hour," we might agree, "with an option to renew." It's slightly less lonely that way. She's more disciplined than I am, but we keep each other on the straight and narrow for a while.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
Amy Hempel's Sing To It. Diannely Antigua's Ugly Music. John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. Fran Ross's Oreo. Tori Amos: Piece by Piece by Tori Amos and Ann Powers. All for pleasure. I've been spending every night in FilmScene though, watching everything from Perfect Blue to Caniba, to Joker - that in itself is a sort of reading - and researching Iowan audience behaviour / concession stand offerings / cinema previews / viewing culture / pre-show raffles.
4. What is one thing the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?
I'm a small-island girl in search of continents.
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from - share some favorite details about your home.
Singapore is small. I keep telling people since I got to Iowa that you can drive around the entire country in two hours. But I recently Googled the "smallest countries in the world" and we are not even in the top ten. So I'm having to re-evaluate my world view. We're a port city. We have a lovely airport, eternal summer and a local form of English called Singlish that I feel is a language in its own right. I could also tell you about the food - but it's best you taste it for yourself.
Thank you Clara!
Clara CHOW 赵燕芬 (fiction, nonfiction, drama; Singapore) is a short story writer, editor, columnist, co-founder of the arts and literature magazine WeAreAWebsite.com, and author of two short story collections. Named among Singapore’s Top 12 Writers to Watch, she won the 2018 Jane Geske Award for her story “Siren (Redux).” Chow participates courtesy of National Arts Council Singapore.