On Writing and Failure from Joy Kogawa

Its-great-to-failJoy Kogawa, award-winning Canadian author and poet, a member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun.

I was thrilled to hear Joy Kogawa speak at the University of Victoria earlier this month. For all her success, she seemed genuinely overwhelmed by all of us who got up early for her talk (a 7:45am start!), and she even expressed some uncertainty about whether or not her recently completed memoir would be published (although of course there is no doubt in my mind!).

Obasan by Joy Kogawa was the first novel to tell the story of how Canadians of Japanese ancestry  were forced from their homes and had their property confiscated during World War II. The cover calls this "a moving novel of a time and a suffering we have tried to forget."

Obasan by Joy Kogawa was the first novel to tell the story of how Canadians of Japanese ancestry were forced from their homes and had their property confiscated during World War II. The cover calls this “a moving novel of a time and a suffering we have tried to forget.”

When she first started writing Gently to Nagasaki, she confessed that she wasn’t sure what it would be, whether a poem or something else. And when it turned out to be a memoir, she said that she immediately felt sorry because “a memoir has an i in it. In a memoir you can’t hide.”

Joy certainly wasn’t hiding in her talk either, as she shared openly about her writing, her own life, and her reflections on suffering and reconciliation.

She spoke with compassion (“The best friend resides there in the enemy”), with honest self-reflection (“What pushes me along most in life is suffering”), with wisdom (“The book doesn’t matter really, what matters is to realize these notions and have them in our life”), and with humility (“My answer to a lot of things is I don’t know”).

The video of her talk hasn’t been posted yet, but for more, you can see the Congress 2013 report.

Thank you, Joy Kogawa, for an inspiring morning, and thanks to two of my sisters for getting up early so we could start the day with this special event.



Categories: Writing

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. Makes me wish I had been there!