Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to host Terry Farish on this week’s Author Spotlight! Terry Farish was one of our Worcester Needs Diverse Books panelists and is the author of a number of acclaimed books for children and teens. Her most recent book is THE GOOD BRAIDER. It’s a young adult novel in verse about a South Sudanese girl’s experience of war and immigration. In a starred review, School Library Journal wrote, “Viola’s memorable, affecting voice will go far to help students step outside of their own experience and walk a mile in another’s shoes.”
Her second novel for young adults is about to be published, EITHER THE BEGINNING OR THE END OF THE WORLD. A Cambodian American girl meets a soldier returned from Afghanistan They both face scars of war and discover extraordinary acts love can demand.
Thank you very much for joining us, Terry! I know you have a lot of experience and research that go into your books. Can you tell us a little about that research and share some of your personal stories that went into your books?
My first job was in Vietnam, working for the Red Cross. When I returned to the U.S. I began to meet Vietnamese people who escaped from war and sought refugee status so that they could resettle, their families could be safe, and their children could go to school. My first job shaped my interest in immigrants who come to North America and my focus as a writer.
While I was researching THE GOOD BRAIDER, my young adult novel about a girl from South Sudan, I met many teens and elders, but I met a lot of children, too. They were experiencing lives brand new to them in American cities. I needed to understand how children and teens cross cultures and begin to make their homes in the U.S.
THE GOOD BRAIDER came from a thousand places. I worked in Portland, Maine, where half the novel is set. It was 2001 when many South Sudanese families had obtained refugee status. Catholic Charities in Maine worked to resettle many of the families between 1999 or so until 2005 when a Peace Accord was signed between southern Sudan and the Government of Sudan. I met many teenagers when they were first making their homes in the U.S., first attending U.S. schools, and first facing the challenges of living as Americans and, at the same time, honoring the African traditions of their elders. From the many stories I heard, research about the war in Juba, and travel to nearby Kenya, I wrote the novel.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out [newest release/spotlighted release]? How did you overcome that challenge?
People often ask about the issue of writing across cultures and if this has been a challenge for me. I didn’t consider the fact that I was writing outside my culture until THE GOOD BRAIDER was about to be published. For the first time, then, I had space to imagine the impact on readers of writing in the voice of a young Sudanese girl. I first wrote in a more distanced 3rd person and had trouble entering the book. When I put all the research away, and began to write from inside the main character’s experience and emotions, I was able to tell the story and that drove the whole process. I researched the book for so many years, was immersed in the culture, and listened to the voices of so many people from South Sudan that the voices were deep inside me as I wrote. The book has been well received as a window on experience unknown to many American young readers or adults.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
If I didn’t have the model of wonderful books that I loved as a child and as an adult, I probably wouldn’t want to write my own. When I read, I discover ways to shape stories, ways to use dialogue, details I can learn about my characters so that I know them deeply and truly. Reading is my muse and it sustains me. Here’s what I advise writers: Connect to the world. Try not to judge; be curious about everything. Find writers you admire and let them inspire you in your writing all your life.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Yes, come to ABSW! My books are in independent bookstores. It not on the shelf, they’ll be happy to order for you. They are also available at B&N and Amazon. And in your public library.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
Web site: http://TerryFarish.com
Book blog: http://BeginningortheEnd.com site for novel coming in October, Either the Beginning or the End of the World about Cambodian Americans, veterans, PTSD
Book blog: http://goodbraider.com site for The Good Braider about Sudanese Americans and immigrant lit
Thank you, once again, Terry, for joining us for Worcester Needs Diverse Books and for being one of our Spotlight Authors!