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The Only Question: Madison and Calgary – Rachel Werner and Kelly Kaur
30.03.2022

The Ulyanovsk UNESCO City of Literature Program Directorate continues publishing The Only Question – new international project – materials. 40 authors from 18 UNESCO literary cities (or related cities) participate in the project. Authors from Madison and Calgary – Rachel Werner and Kelly Kaur – are our guests of the project.

The organizers invited writers, poets, playwrights, translators from UNESCO literary cities to imagine they have the opportunity to ask just one question to an author from any other literary city. The initiative will help to introduce the authors from the literary cities to each other and establish their dialogue. The project will also let to understand what issues are of concern to authors from different countries today. Besides, it will provide an opportunity for readers to get to know new writers and poets.

Questions and answers by the authors (in Russian and English) along with a short biography of each participant and links to their publications will regularly appear on the Ulyanovsk UNESCO City of Literature Website, other literary cities’ websites, and social media, etc. Writers’ dialogs will also be offered for publication on the project partners’ platforms (literary magazines, libraries, literary media, and mass media). As a result of the project, in summer 2022 an online anthology will be released (in Russian and English) with all the conversations.

 

Madison and Calgary – Rachel Werner and Kelly Kaur

Rachel Werner, Madison (Wisconsin)

Hello Kelly,

I send you greetings from Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A! My name is Rachel Werner and I've been connected to you via the Only Question Project with Ulyanovsk City of Literature. My question to you for the project is this:

How do you feel your role as a writer allows you to influence and/or commentate on the concept of “identity” – both in terms of what you write about, and how you connect with artists, readers and audiences?

Look forward to hearing from you soon and please let me know if you have any questions.

Rachel

PS: In case you're curious as to know a little bit about me:

Currently, I am a teaching artist for Hugo House, the Loft Literary Center, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop, in addition to being the founder of The Little Book Project WI (a community arts initiative committed to pursuing social justice through narrative). My literary writing and craft essays have been published by Off Menu Press, Digging Through the Fat, and Voyage YA Literary Journal. And a selection of my recipes are also included in Wisconsin Cocktails (UW-Press, 2020), and my poetry can be found in the anthology Hope Is The Thing: Wisconsinites On Hope and Resilience in the Time of Covid-19 (The Wisconsin Historical Society, 2021). A regular book reviewer for Shelf Awareness, I have contributed print, photography, and video content to We Are Teachers, Highlights Foundation, TheKitchn, Spruce Eats, Fabulous Wisconsin, BLK+GRN, BRAVA, Madison Magazine, and Entrepreneurial Chef. I am the author of Wild Earth Science: FLOODS (Capstone, January 2022) and an untitled picture book slated for publication in 2024, also from Capstone. I am also represented by Savannah Brooks at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

 

Kelly Kaur, Calgary

Thank you, Rachel. I love all your accomplishments. They sound awesome. Congratulations on the many faceted projects as well. Here is my answer to your question. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect upon the craft of writing.

How do you feel your role as a writer allows you to influence and/or commentate on the concept of “identity” – both in terms of what you write about, and how you connect with artists, readers and audiences?

Thank you, Rachel: intriguing. I think that every writer has an opportunity to influence the concept of identity in his or her writing. My hope is to question and reinvent the identity of women and race in my writing. When I was a young girl growing up in Singapore, I was in awe of women characters in my books and novels who rebelled, stood up, spoke up, and deconstructed patriarchal constraints. I also hungered for more works by writers of color who wrote about people like me.

First, in my novel, stories, poems, and nonfiction, I am drawn to writing about rebellious, headstrong, no-nonsense women with a strong voice and who want to speak up. In my novel, Letters to Singapore, five women write letters to one another. This was the perfect opportunity to let each woman define her own role and to find ways to live her best truth in her exploration of her own life; each woman grappled with and built a new identity for herself. As a woman writer, I always want to give myself and my characters a chance to stand up and to be heard. Coming from a background where women’s roles have been more traditional, I enjoy repositioning and challenging the concept and expectations of the old order in my works. Even in 2022, there are still many old-fashioned viewpoints about women’s identities in many cultures and traditions around the world that must be exposed, examined, and reconstructed – especially in literature.

My second desire is to bring to focus identities of race and color in my creative works. In highlighting racism, I hope to encourage reflection. In bringing Singlish and non-English words into my writing, I want to establish the identities of authentic voices and people from different backgrounds. I want to connect with readers and audiences on the grounds of shared values – how we are all the same as human beings. As people of color, our stories, backgrounds and culture are beautiful and important enough to take centre stage in our stories. Here’s to creating new identities and possibilities for the new world where we celebrate differences and allow our own unique identities to shine in our creative works.

 

Rachel Werner, Madison (Wisconsin)

Hello Kelly,

THANK YOU for such a thorough & thoughtful response to my question. I will write more to you within the next few days, but wanted to be sure you knew I had received your latest email and very much enjoyed reading your reflections.

Rachel

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Rachel Werner

Rachel Werner is a teaching artist for Hugo House, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and The Loft Literary Center, in addition to being the founder of The Little Book Project WI. Her literary writing and craft essays have been published by Off Menu Press, Digging Through The Fat and Voyage YA Literary Journal. A selection of Rachel's recipes are also included in Wisconsin Cocktails (UW-Press, 2020) – and her poetry in the anthology “Hope Is The Thing: Hope is the Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic” (The Wisconsin Historical Society, 2021). She has also contributed print, photography and video content to numerous publications including TheKitchn, The Spruce Eats, Fabulous Wisconsin, BLK+GRN, BRAVA, Madison Magazine and Entrepreneurial Chef.

For more info visit:

https://loft.org/artists/rachel-werner

https://artlitlab.org/artists/rachel-werner

https://rachelwerner.pressfolios.com/

https://www.thekitchn.com/authors/rachel-werner

https://www.littlebookwi.com/creative-team

 

Kelly Kaur

Kelly Kaur was born in Singapore and now lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She teaches at Mount Royal University and at Athabasca University. Kelly is interested in exploring themes of race, color, immigration and women’s issues. Kelly has been published internationally in anthologies and journals: some include Understorey, Anak Sastra, WordCity Monthly, The Social Distancing Arts Festival, Poet of the Republic, BeZine, on Blindman Session Beer Cans, in The Best Asian Stories 2020, The Best Asian Poetry 2021, and in the International Human Rights Arts Festival. Her novel, Letters to Singapore, Stonehouse Publishing, will available April 2022.

For more info visit:

https://www.facebook.com/kelly.kaur.98/

https://www.ihraf.org/ihraf-publishes/the-precipice-of-the-periphery-kelly-kaur

https://ckua.com/listen/first-snowfall-by-kelly-kaur-a-blindman-brewing-...

https://ckua.com/listen/prontha-by-kelly-kaur-a-blindman-brewing-session...

https://www.socialdistancingfestival.com/featured/kelly-kaur

https://thebezine.com/2021/04/07/kelly-kaur-poems/

http://anaksastra.com/uploads/3/5/2/6/35260529/anak_sastra_issue_41.pdf

https://wordcitylit.ca/2021/05/15/mother-a-story-by-kelly-kaur/

https://understoreymagazine.ca/article/a-feast-to-die-for/

https://understoreymagazine.ca/article/the-music-of-laughter/

https://greythoughts.info/blog-twc/showcase-week-of-724-3021