Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is the author of the novel Harmless Like You, the latter of which received the 2017 Author’s Club First Novel Award and a Betty Trask Award. In this issue- which she is covering- we got the chance to interview Rowan and get to know the mind behind some of our favorite books better.
What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?
I am so happy to have a career as a novelist. It still feels magical when I see my novel on the shelf of a bookstore. When I receive messages from readers about how my writing connected with their personal stories, I know that all of the time thinking, writing, editing, and re-editing was worth it.
Did you always want to be a writer?
When I was young, I didn’t think that writing was a job that people actually go to do. It seemed like being a president, or an astronaut, or a dragon. But I’ve always loved reading and telling stories. And, so, when I realized it was possible and I looked back at my life, I saw that I had been slowly traveling towards this place.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Much of my inspiration comes from looking at the lives of people around me and wondering about all the other choices they might have made. For example, my first novel was about a mother who leaves her child. And my own mother never left. But I know there were times when she wished she could. Other times I am inspired by the feeling of a particular place or a piece of art.
Who are some Asian women you look up to?
There are many Asian women who inspire me. Sadly there isn’t time to list all of them. But, there are two artists who particularly inspire me. Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese visual artist. Perhaps you’ve seen her polka-dotted pumpkins. She suffers from a severe mental illness, but she was inspired by her hallucinations to make art that speaks to people around the world. Yoko Ono was under-appreciated for a long time. But now people are recognizing her art and her poetry and seeing her as someone independent from her husband. I’m really inspired by how she persisted and believed in her own creativity through all these waves of fashion.
How do you get “in the zone” for writing?
I find a quiet place. Sometimes I read what I have written before.
How do you unwind?
I cook myself simple meals. Mashed sweet potatoes and avocados are a favorite. I spend time with friends. And, of course, reading.
What is a book that you think everyone should read?
It is maybe impossible for me to name one book. But Territory of Light by Yūko Tshushima is a book I find especially moving. The novel devotes itself to the inner life of a young single mother living independently for the first time. I think it’s important to make space for these quieter stories.
What’s next for you?
I am looking forward to touring for my new novel Starling Days which comes out in the UK on July 11th and in the U.S. next Spring. It’s a story about love and mental illness that asks how we can care for each other during the hardest times.
What is your go-to coffee order?
Peach tea or genmaicha.
What do you consider the biggest problem facing Asian women today to be?
I know so many brilliant Asian women fighting in different arenas. Some are working for societal justice such as rights for LGBTQ people or for those with mental health issues. Others are excelling in their own fields and becoming role models and leaders. I think the challenge we have is to lift each other up while at the same time acknowledging that we all face a slightly different set of problems.
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