Well Read: Jen Currin, author of “Disembark”

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      Jen Currin knows relationships are messy.

      Their latest short story collection, Disembark—out today—is by turns real and fantastical, but remains completely grounded in the complicated way that humans relate to each other. There’s a thread of loneliness through the stories—friends drift apart, romances suffocate, admiration turns sour—but also hope. 

      With five poetry collections under their belt and a previous short fiction anthology, Hider/Seeker, netting a Canadian Independent Book Award, the New Westminster-based writer is a master of conveying poignant emotions in just a few thoughtful phrases.

      Here, they get into the books that shaped them, the best spots to read in Vancouver, and their literary heroes.

      Tell us about yourself.

      I’m a poet and fiction writer, a friend, a lover, a gardener, a walker, a bike-rider, an okay cook, a person who often looks serious but likes to be silly. I’m a white settler of mixed, mostly Western European ancestry, and I live on the unceded and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Kwikwetlem, Qayqayt, and Kwantlen Nations.

      What’s something you want everyone to know about you? 

      I teach creative writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and my students are amazing!

      What’s one book that changed the way you think?

      I feel like all of the books I’ve read, starting with nursery rhymes and picture books, have churned through me and made me the writer and person I am. Being ready to have my mind changed is one of the reasons I read. One instance I specifically remember is the first time I read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. It gave a language to experiences I was already living in my queer communities.

      What are you currently reading?

      Kelly Link’s White Cat, Black Dog, Selina Boan’s Undoing Hours, and Leslie Jamison’s Make It Scream, Make It Burn.

      What’s your favourite book to give as a gift?

      I gift friends’ poetry collections a lot. I think I’ve given Raoul Fernandes’s Transmitter and Receiver to at least five people!

      How would you describe your book tastes?

      Fairly wide-ranging, although I do read a lot of poetry and short fiction, as those are my primary writing genres. I love a good novel, memoir, or nonfiction work and I read a lot of Black, Indigenous, and queer writers. My eyes and ears are always attuned to voice and craft. I’m drawn to experimental work or writing that tells a story in a new or different way. I recently finished Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail and was amazed by what she could capture in just over a hundred pages, and by her stylistic use of repetition to show the control of a settler state.

      What’s one book you can’t wait to read?

      The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.

      What’s one book you thought you’d love but didn’t (or vice versa)?

      Ted Chiang’s Exhalation. One of my students recommended him and I had been wanting to read him for a couple of years, but I found the collection rather underwhelming. But I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, so that might just be the issue?

      Favourite book store in Vancouver?

      This is a hard one! So many good bookstores. I love Massy Books, Paper Hound, and Iron Dog Books.

      Favourite local author?

      I have so many favorite local authors—I’m afraid to start naming them because I worry I’ll leave someone out! But a local writer I do admire and am doing a reading with soon is Carleigh Baker. Her first collection of stories is a favorite of mine, and her just-released second collection—Last Woman—is even better.

      Controversial: are you someone who has to finish every book you start, or can you abandon ones that aren’t working for you?

      For years I fell into the first category, but that has shifted as I’ve gotten older and realize how many books I want to read before I die. I now fall firmly in the second category. I often discard books that aren’t interesting to me, or that suffer from careless writing.

      What’s one book you wish you wrote?

      I wish I had the talent of Garth Greenwell or Toni Morrison, but only they could have written their books.

      Where’s your favourite place in Vancouver to read?

      I love to read in coffee shops and parks. Prado on the Drive, Trout Lake, little neighbourhood pocket parks… I also read a lot on the SkyTrain.