Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Adebe DeRango-Adem

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Adebe DeRango-Adem

Adebe DeRango-Adem talks to Open Book about the anthology she co-edited with Andrea Thompson, Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (Inanna Publications). The goal for this exciting anthology was not to nail down what identity means, but rather to open discussion and interrogate the diverse experiences of mixed-race identity and identification.

Open Book:

Tell us about the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out.

Adebe DeRango-Adem:

Other Tongues was born from a combination of necessity and a desire to see a new and refreshing literature that could be at the forefront of mixed-race discourse and women’s studies. We are very proud of the finished product and anticipate that it will make many waves in literary and academic communities across the continent!

OB:

What inspired you to put together this anthology?

ADA:

The idea behind this anthology of writing by and about mixed-race women in North America was planted in our minds when we each came across Miscegenation Blues: Voices of Mixed Race Women (1994), edited by Carol Camper. While we picked up this groundbreaking book at different times in our lives, the anthology had a lasting impact on both of us, an impact that would set the stage for the collaboration that became Other Tongues. We are thrilled to have had Carol Camper contribute to our anthology and continue to be inspired by the women who have responded so warmly to this book. What inspired me personally is, as many interracial women may share experientially, a feeling that my interracial history is a ripe place for critical analysis.

OB:

The subtitle, Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, suggests that identity is a significant theme for Other Tongues. What are some of the ways that your contributors approach issues of identity?

ADA:

In seeking work for this book, we asked our prospective contributors to share their own individual experiences and tell their unique stories in relation to the way(s) in which they identified themselves. This process led to the excavation of perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds, ideologies, racial mixes, ages, social classes, sexual orientations and geographical locations. This collection has become a snapshot of the North American terrain of questions about race, mixed-race, racial identity, and how mixed-race women in North America identify in the 21st Century.

Yet, Andrea and I made it clear that our agenda was not to define what or how mixed-race identity means, but to open up dialogue. Talking about identity is as dangerous as it is reifying and necessary; as contestable as it is a question of commitment. Authenticity is as much about finding oneself as it is a concept shaped by social norms. In addressing these questions, we asked the women who submitted work to be considered to make a distinction between issues of race and those of cultural identity. In Other Tongues, there are multiple visions and understandings of authenticity/identity, as exemplified by the various sections we have. Where this book treats interracial identities uniquely is in our conscious effort to link creativity to identification; recognizing our potential for creativity as a source of value for writing who we are.

OB:

Other Tongues is divided into three sections: "Rules/Roles," "Roots/Routes" and "Revelations." What can you tell us about how you understand the pieces in each of the categories?

ADA:

Many women featured in Other Tongues address issues of belonging, experiences of being a racial outlaw; feeling demanded to choose allegiance between one side or another. In creating a structure for the book, we looked at common themes and grouped them accordingly.

Part I, “Rules / Roles”, investigates women’s answers to the question “what are you”, and the direct or unspoken societal request that we choose racial alliances. It also considers how, and if, the mixed-race self can be composed of disparate identities in relation to each other... not in opposition to one another, or where “one” identity has to replace another.

Part II, “Roots / Routes”, features writing and images that pertain to questions of location, immigration, diasporic movement, family and even hair — the politics of hair is a big deal for many of our women authors! Many of the stories in this section also discuss the intersection between ancestry and geography. The issue of dual heritage — of being neither African nor American/Canadian, neither fully black nor white — speaks to the various “crossings” of writers whose stories travel across racial, ethnic, cultural and geographical lines.

Finally, Part III, “Revelations”, features work representative of a culmination of wisdom, insights, and visions for the future. This is such an empowering section, so many pieces come together beautifully. Identity is social, political, material, marked; but there is a psychic component of identity that transcends social symbols and phenotypes. There is a part of identity that cannot be staged or fulfill the expectations of other communities; a part of our identities that speaks to the magic of storytelling.

OB:

What was the experience of collaborating on this project like? How did you approach the task?

ADA:

After a few years of following each others’ creative trails as poets, we formally met for the first time in 2009. We had strangely felt like we’d known each other for years. Shortly after realizing our kinship creatively and culturally, we began to discuss the need for a new collection of work by mixed-race women in order to reflect upon the changing racial landscape that had occurred over the last decade. As co-editors, we also both brought our own diverse mix of literary, academic and performing backgrounds to the project — what with Andrea being a pioneer in Canadian performance poetry, and myself as a poet with a background in literary studies. I like to think we bring an excellent “mix” of talents to the editorial front!

OB:

What was the most challenging aspect of editing Other Tongues?

ADA:

Not saying yes to every piece, and ensuring that we didn’t come across as attempting to define what the experience of mixed-race women is supposed to look like. We wanted to allow readers to formulate their own anecdotes and self-discoveries as they read.

OB:

Is there a particular piece in Other Tongues that really stands out for each of you?

ADA:

Impossible for me to choose, since practically all of them hit “home” for me (no matter where authors were geographically located).

OB:

Other Tongues. includes spoken word texts as well as poetry. How do you define the difference between a spoken word text and a poem?

ADA:

Some poems are meant to be read solemnly and reflected upon silently and others are meant to be heard aloud and pierce through your consciousness.

OB:

How did editing this anthology inspire and challenge your own work as a writer?

ADA:

As an editor for this incredible anthology, I find myself at a loss for words… a loss for words at having gained so much inspiration and knowledge along the journey of connecting with women across North America who have understood the need to resist the lure of singularity — and find solidarity… culturally, ethno-racially and otherwise. As a poet, I am continuously inspired by the often-metaphoric structure of poetry that allows you to make connections between disparate things and take what’s personal to a community level. I think this is what Other Tongues represents to me… a leap from the personal to the communal, a reaching out, which is what the most memorable writing often does.

OB:

What will you be working on next?

ADA:

A second full-length poetry manuscript, yet to be titled, and my English doctorate starting in September.


Adebe D.A. is a writer whose words travel between Toronto and New York. She recently completed her MA at York University, where she also served as Assistant Editor for the arts and literary journal Existere. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was published in 2010 by Frontenac House and subsequently longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the world’s largest prize for writers under 30. She is co-editor with Andrea Thompson of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out.

For more information about Other Tongues please visit the Inanna Publications website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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