Interview: Hiromi Goto

Hiromi Goto is a first generation Canadian author who writes books for adults, teens, and children. Her work has received many honors, from the Sunburst Award for excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic, to the James Tiptree Jr. Award for work that explores and expands our notions of gender, to the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award for speculative fiction created by a self-identified person of color. Goto’s work reflects her identity as a queer, feminist woman of color, and certainly “Notes from Liminal Spaces” is no exception.

Uncanny Magazine: A note at the end of the story tells us that “Notes from Liminal Spaces” was originally presented as the keynote speech at the 2015 Academic Conference of Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy. When you delivered this as a keynote speech, were the parts of the story with Eiko and Lori and Kanami part of it, or were those added later?

Hiromi Goto: When I’m asked to deliver keynotes I often find myself torn and a little frustrated. I became a writer to write fiction, but I often find myself being asked to write talks. I considered writing this piece in strictly essay form, but as I began working on it, I kept on wishing I was demonstrating the things I was saying in fictive forms. So I began to switch between the two strands of narrative, twining them, and that felt just right.

Uncanny Magazine: What made you decide to interweave the critical observations on speculative fiction and liminal spaces within human society with the fictional narrative in this particular way?

Hiromi Goto: I perceive and understand critical observations and fictional narrative differently. They are different modalities of communication. They both do particular things very well, but they do not share the same kind of relationship with the audience. Fictional narrative can be a very intimate form of engagement, whereas critical observations deploy a particular grammar that is primarily intellectual and (often) emotionally removed. By weaving both of these forms together I can illustrate these differences through immediate contrast. I was also doing a lot of standpoint shifts even within the fictional narrative via changes in POV, verb tense, narrative distance… I wished to point to the forms of things—how they perform in distinct ways.

Uncanny Magazine: You mention not wanting to be a representative, but also recognizing the importance of representation. I think this is something many of us struggle with when we identify as parts of marginalized groups. How do you find ways to balance this in your work and life?

Hiromi Goto: A long time ago, I think in my late twenties, I decided that I will always center characters of Asian heritage in my stories, especially novels. It was one small choice I could make as a writer to bring a greater population of diverse characters into the demographics of literature (the bodies that we find, there). This worked very well until I was quite far into the writing of my second YA novel, Darkest Light, and I realized that my protagonist, Gee, was not of Asian background. I had a brief moment of consternation, laughed, then continued on. It was what I needed to write at the moment, in relation to the story that had started in the first book, Half World. Currently, most of my stories still center on characters of Asian heritage. What they experience in their arcs are not “limited” to their subject identities—they are beset by Death, creatures, unexpected pregnancies, etc. as anyone may be <grin>. But what I’m conscious of, in the writing of their stories, is that their identities inform their worldviews and their actions. They are characters drawing from particular cultures of knowledge, not just costuming their skin tones. This is very important to me.

I think it’s important to remind myself that I don’t have do “all the things” (whatever that may be) for everyone. And the areas that I feel I’ve not covered/represented, etc., can be done very well by someone else. If writing becomes bound by duty or obligation then I think it’s become something other than a creative art form. It’s important to me that the genesis of my projects comes from a place of creative process.

Uncanny Magazine: Sedna comes up in a footnote, but you don’t explore that story in your own, though you point out that liminal bodies may be violently used, and that every bit counts—something that does have interesting echoes in the bird entrail bits of your own story. How much is Sedna part of your story background? When did you first learn it, and what made you come back to it here?

Hiromi Goto: I read about Sedna a long time ago— a creation story that startled me. I did not hear this story from a traditional Inuit source, so the version I read may very well have been inflected with a Eurocentric value system. I reference Sedna because her story has always resonated for me in a profound way; it touches upon so much of human and animal relations, cultures, and violence, particularly around a woman’s/daughter’s body. It’s also about rebirth, regeneration. It is a powerful story, one that seems to shift depending on how you look at it. I don’t think it’s my story to re-imagine (in a longer narrative fiction form) so I referenced it in a poem. I also wanted to destabilize the “authority” of the essay form by inverting the academic tradition of offering scholarly footnotes to theorize/analyze lines of poetry, and, instead, layering the critical text with the intelligence of a poem.

Uncanny Magazine: You say the stories of liminal bodies are not always nice, and certainly there is discomfort in this one, both in the fictional bits and in the metadiscussion. To take this further away into meta territory, though, on Twitter you post “a little beauty every day” in picture form. When is it important to you to shine a light on the hard and messy bits, and when is it important to you to remind yourself and the world of the beautiful? Are each of these things defiant acts?

Hiromi Goto: Canada is currently in a state of “cultural stability” from a settler standpoint. Compared to the ongoing atrocities happening in Syria it may seem as if we are freely living a rich and privileged existence—in many ways we do. But this “stability” has been paid for with systemic violence done upon Indigenous peoples throughout Turtle Island, a legacy of violence that continues to this day through the long-term repercussions of colonial land-theft, residential school systems, foster care system, cultural genocide, killing of languages, and the dishonouring of treaties. This is the foundation of the Canadian nation. Meanwhile, a human-made climate change disaster is unfolding before us, with such a significant impact upon our environment that our current geological age has been called the Anthropocene. We are living in urgent times. All is not well and there’s so much for us to do.

My work as a writer endeavours to break down barriers, speak across different communities and experiences through the medium of art. A court jester who entertains, but who is also saying the emperor has no clothes.

For those of us who live closer to the margins, with bodies and identities that are not “valued” by the state, and whose lives are thought of as insignificant, seeking beauty and wonder might be thought of as a bourgeois aspiration. In fact, beauty and wonder is everyone’s birthright. It’s important for me to consistently re-affirm and honour the beautiful and the wondrous, particularly in the living environment.

A great many of us have very urban existences, but even here, if you slow down and observe, there is much vibrant life. Yellow lichen thriving on the side of a building, a dandelion busting through concrete. A cascade of house finch song from atop a city tree. Little brown mushrooms poking through a lawn. An urban coyote loping past the racetracks. To acknowledge and honour life’s beauty is also an act of resistance. In moments of despair these acknowledgements remind me that we are a small part of a larger world of life. And, really, none of our non-human relations are calling this age “the Anthropocene”—only us.

Uncanny Magazine: What is next for you and where else may readers find you and your work?

Hiromi Goto: I’ve a body-horror novelette entitled “And the moon spun round like a top,” being published in PRISM International magazine this spring as well in Issue 55:3. My first graphic novel, Shadow Life, with artist Celine Loup, is slated for publication in 2018 with First Second Books. Folks can find me online on Twitter @hinganai and on Instagram @hiromigotowrites. I’m currently finishing up a collection of short stories and novelettes. And wondering how hard it is to write a screenplay…. 😉 Just super inspired by recent films like Moonlight, I’m Not Your Negro, Get Out, and would love to write a kick-ass space opera with middle-aged women of colour heroes. 

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for exploring the liminal spaces with us, Hiromi!

Julia Rios

Julia Rios is the reprint fiction/poetry editor and an interviewer for Uncanny Magazine. She is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in several places, including Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and Goblin Fruit. She was a fiction editor for Strange Horizons from 2012 to 2015, and is co-editor with Alisa Krasnostein of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction series. She is also a co-host of the Hugo-nominated podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show, and has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders, and poems for the Strange Horizons podcast. To find out more, visit juliarios.com.

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