canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Chandra Mayor

Chandra Mayor is a Manitoba writer. She was exposed recently in the anthology Exposed edited by Catherine Hunter. Chandra is the author of August Witch (Cyclops Press, 2002), which was short-listed for a Manitoba Book award and won for best first book (Eileen McTavish Sykes Award). Her debut novel Cherry (Conundrum, 2004) deals with prairie skinheads, that is, the skinhead scene of Winnipeg set in the 1990ís. 

Nathaniel G. Moore conducted this interview via email in January 2004.

TDR: Where did you grow up?

CM: I grew up in Winnipeg.

TDR: And then when did you begin to write?

CM: I started writing as soon as I was old enough to write down sentences. My mom bought me a blue scribbler to keep all my poems in as a little kid. Very sweet. I won a contest when I was eight and got hooked on the fame and glory of poetry.

TDR: Do you think there is fame and glory in poetry? I always believed that Emily Dickinson had the right idea, in some cases; hide your writing in shoeboxes in the walls.

CM: No, I don't think there's fame and glory in poetry. if you're looking for fame and glory as a poet you're in the wrong game. As a poet you hope for some small critical acclaim, and more importantly, the knowledge that you have in some way connected with your audience or your readers. You hope that at least one of your poems means something to someone. which leads me to the shoebox. Frankly, if you're going to hide your poetry in shoeboxes in the wall, I donít know why youíd bother writing it. Writing is an exercise in exhibitionism, and exhibitionism is no fun unless someone's watching. Poetry is a dead medium unless you're actually engaged in the process of communicating. Success means that your writing has transcended the page and spoken directly to someone. That you've successfully articulated a feeling that the reader has experienced but never been able to put words to. That youíve made the abstract real. That youíve given name to the nameless, to quote Audre Lorde.

TDR: Can you tell the folks at home about some of the literary related fields you traverse across?

CM: I sit on the board of Prairie Fire Magazine, and Iím the Manitoba representative for the League of Canadian Poets. (Basically that means that I do a lot of fundraising). Iím a former editor with CV2 and a little magazine called Dark Leisure (no longer in existence).

TDR: Your new book is your first novel, Cherry. The voice is very flush, and very immediate. There is urgency in its delivery. Can you explain some of the reasoning behind your choice of presenting the dialogue?

CM: I wanted to make this novel really immediate, and i think the first-person voice-based narrative achieves that. I didnít want the immediacy mediated by a third-person narrator. I wanted the reader to have direct access to this girl's thoughts and feelings. I wanted the reader to feel very engaged with this book, with the events in this girl's life; I wanted the reader to feel like s/he was experiencing this life along with the narrator. Decisions that would otherwise be incomprehensible, like choosing to stay in an abusive relationship, make more sense when the reader is privy to the narrator's thoughts and feelings about her life. Ultimately, the narrator's good decisions, when she makes them, are that much more meaningful to the reader because you know what she had to go through and experience to be able to choose freedom or escape.

TDR: The subject of your book is skinheads; can you discuss why this topic interested you in particular?

CM: The book is very loosely based on some of my own experiences as a teenager. I hung out in the skinhead and punk scenes, and so was familiar with the culture, the music, etc. I chose to set the book in the skinhead scene partly because I wanted to explore the concept of community, of belonging, and of the steep price you often have to pay to feel like an insider. Skinheads, like gangs, operate with a tight sense of community that's more like family; it's part of what makes the culture so attractive to dispossessed young men. Brotherhood. But the group takes on a life and momentum larger than the individuals involved, and in order to remain a part of it, you must ultimately sacrifice your individuality (including, often, your ethics). The young woman who narrates this book experiences these dynamics of sacrificing herself to remain connected in her relationship; her boyfriend, tom, experiences these dynamics within the larger skinhead culture. Ultimately, the book asks whether or not this kind of sacrifice is desirable, and questions the extremes that people will go to to preserve this belonging, this connection. How far would you go for your family? At what point do you walk away, and how are you equipped to do that? What price do you pay to stay, and what price do you pay to leave? Skinhead culture, particularly neo-nazi skin culture, seemed the perfect setting to ask these kinds of questions.

Nathaniel G. Moore is represented online courtesy of Notho Entertainment






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