By Jonathon Pukila
Farzana Doctor is a critically acclaimed writer, whose 2012 novel Six Metres of Pavement received the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction. When she is not writing novels, she is a part-time psychotherapist and activist in Toronto. Doctor was in Thunder Bay for Thunder Pride’s Literary Evening, and I spoke with her on the sidelines of the event.
Q: Your work has been critically acclaimed, including a recent Lambda Literary Award. Does this critical acclaim point to a surging interest in queer writers, and specifically, queer writers of South Asian origin?
A: I think so. I think that as this milieu gets more and more queer-positive, there’s more interest not just for queer people reading queer writing, but for the general public reading queer writers. As we become more mainstream our writing becomes more mainstream. And I’ve really noticed this because I was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award, which is a very general award, and my sales surged around that time. And so I think that there are more openings, generally, for people to be reading about communities they don’t belong to that would have been marginalized communities before.
Q: In a recent interview that you gave with The Hindu, you talk about challenging the “compartmentalization” of writers like yourself. How exactly do you challenge it and do you feel it’s successful?
A: Yeah. This book [Six Metres of Pavement] book is actually about a straight guy, and I tend to focus more on universal kinds of issues: loss, tragedy, and survival and all of that, so I talk about story being the more universal theme. Maybe some of the characters people are not used to seeing so much in fiction, but I do balk when people say are you a queer writer or a South Asian writer. And I just say “you know; I am a writer of contemporary literary fiction.” And there’s such diversity amongst those writers. We don’t ask straight white guys if you are a straight white writer, but we do this with marginalized books.
Q: From the selections you read tonight, I got the sense that the women in Ismail’s life shape his worldview and change him, not just as an individual but in order to move forward and have those second chances.
A: [Ismail] was this character who was really stuck in his life, stuck in his grief, stuck in his regret, so I needed to create some characters who would be a catalyst for change. So there’s Daphne, who gets him moving and does some stuff, but ditches him all the time. Then there’s Fatima, who’s bratty and pushes him to help her, and makes him rethink some of the things he believes. Then there’s Zalia who’s a love interest. And I think that’s how we are as people; we need other people, other influences to move us along, to help you when we’re really stuck. I know that in times when I’ve been really sad and really stuck, I’ve relied on my family and friends and loves to move me along. That’s how we get over the worst mistakes of our lives.
Doctor is currently working on her third novel, a story about a mixed-race young Canadian woman, working in Mexico as a tour guide who inadvertently stumbles onto the swinging scene.