Victoria Chang is the author of the new book Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief. Her other books include the poetry collections Obit and Barbie Chang, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Kenyon Review and Poetry. She lives in Southern California.
Q: You write, "I began to think about how maybe my memories are never really just my memories but are fragments of memories and stories from others." Can you say more about that, and about how this book came to be?
A: I think this book eventually became a book about how little we know about our own histories and the slippery nature of memory. So much of who are is predicated on our pasts that we simply cannot know. In some cases like mine, I know very little and after my mother died, I yearned to know more but it was too late.
This book came to be in a painful way in that I didn't plan to write anything on these subjects and resisted along the way. The process was very organic and what remains is really a book that shows the process of making.
Q: Dear Memory includes both letters and collages. How did you decide on the order in which the letters and the art would appear?
A: The book started as a letter, then another, then another. The letters evolved into letters related to my personal history which were not initially intended either.
I started including some found materials, then I found a recorded interview I conducted with my mother, then photos, then I wrote poems on the photos, then I experimented with the visual, landing on cut and ripped paper. It was quite the mess of a process!
Q: The Kirkus Review says, "This book is moving in a way that transcends story and message; it captures a pure sense of another person's heart." What do you think of that assessment?
A: I think it's flattering. I think I didn't hold back when writing this book, and now that I think about it, I try and reveal my true feelings when writing/drafting. I do offer my heart to the reader, or at least try to. So perhaps it's an accurate depiction.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I've not truly thought about this, but perhaps to be moved? To think a little differently about something like memory or history? To think about their own histories and backgrounds? I suppose whatever they want to take away from the book.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just started writing again after a bit of a hiatus. I've been writing daily for more than 30 days now. I started writing as a form of survival as I've been going through some challenging times. It's helped me immensely. I don't know if anything I am writing will ever see the light of day, but I do know that I am having a lot of fun writing.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Nothing really, but that I do hope people find something interesting about the book. I'm so grateful for Milkweed for publishing it--it's really an askew kind of book and it's a writer's dream to have a publisher put something out there that doesn't really fit any category really.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Victoria Chang.