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      Un Momento with Caterina Edwards

       
      By
      Aug. 3, 2016

      Caterina EdwardsCaterina Edwards is one of the most groundbreaking and powerful writers in Canada today. She is one of the first writers to write about the Italian immigrant experience in Canada through her plays, fiction and memoirs. Her work has won many awards and established her as a strong voice on the Canadian literary scene. Her recent novel, The Sicilian Wife, took the book world by storm, getting attention from The National Post as well as a spot for its author at The Vancouver International Crime Writer’s Festival. The novel is extremely gripping and set both in Sicily and Edmonton. It tells a thrilling story of a woman trying to escape from the Mafia to find a new life. In June, Caterina was inducted into Edmonton’s Arts and Culture Hall of Fame for her contribution as an artist.

      Your novel, The Sicilian Wife, has been described as a “literary noir”. Was it difficult to write a thrilling mystery?

      I found it much more difficult than I expected. I had to discipline myself, cut out many passages that were unnecessary or self-indulgent, especially the lyrical passages. And the mechanics of a mystery plot were tough, in particular controlling and coordinating the time sequence of events in both Italy and Canada. I did try to follow some of the mystery form, using suspense, placing my detective in danger, and having that detective and the chief villain confront each other face to face. I am proud of that chapter.

      How much research did you need to do to write this novel?

      Much more than I expected. I read a number of books on the Sicilian Mafia and the women in that organization. I consulted with two Edmonton policemen, one of whom was Italian-Canadian. A Questore in Italy generously let me spend a day watching him work and answering my questions. It was important to me to give a sense of Sicily in its complexity. I visited three times with my husband and daughters. I interviewed a number of my husband’s relatives and friends. I read works on Sicilian history and anthropology, as well as Sicilian writers (in the original Italian): Verga, Lampedusa, Vittorini, Camillieri, and most inspiring, Leonardo Sciascia. The Sicilian tales in Calvino’s Fiabe. The newly translated Beautiful Angliola, The Great Treasury of Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales: I used it all the way through.

      Do you think that this novel will become a series?

      I am working on a historical novel now. But I do have ideas for a couple more mysteries featuring Marisa De Luca. I have been surprised with how many readers have contacted me to say they want to know what happens next. One Sicilian lady (who I didn’t know) phoned and told me she had to know what happens to Fulvia’s daughters and that should be the story I was writing next. She said, “I’m 84. I can’t wait too long.”

      The National Post named the novel one of the best books of the year. How did that feel?

      Terrific, especially since it was one of two books by an Alberta writer on the list and also one of two mystery/noirs. As usual, the Globe & Mail ignored it.

      Your previous work, Finding Rosa, is a powerful memoir about your mother. How difficult is it to write in so many different forms, plays, novels and memoirs?

      I usually start with a story I need to tell; then I work out which form best suits it. I like the challenge of trying different ways of telling stories. Still, I don’t think shifting genres is the smartest thing for a writer. You don’t build a brand, which we’re told is important. And you take longer to do each book, because each time you have to learn a new approach, even a new set of rules. But I can’t help myself. I wrote a docudrama for CBC radio, and I loved figuring out how to communicate everything only using sound. Besides I am even more compelled to cross genres in each book. Finding Rosa is a memoir, but it contains biography and history too. The Sicilian Wife is a literary novel, a police procedural, and a noir. I am even working on a screenplay with a friend. I doubt anything will come of it, but it is fascinating being confined mostly to the visual.

       Do you have any writing rituals or routines?  

      I work at a stand-up desk, and I like to have music plying as I write. I choose certain pieces to help with the mood and the rhythm of what I am writing. For The Sicilian Wife, Domenic Mancuso, The Sicilian Jazz Project, and for the scenes of Fulvia as a young girl, Italian pop singers from the 60s. Leonard Cohen helps whatever the work.

      Many people believe that modern technology is changing how we read and how we write. Has technology changed the way you read and write?

      I do use a Kindle when I travel. My eyes are bad, so I do listen to audiobooks, but I still prefer print. I can’t seem to write without a computer.

      Is writing about Italian families and Italian -Canadian immigrants still very important to you?

      I have had reviews and also comments that tell me I should move on. And I wonder if I would have a bigger profile in Canada if I wrote what are considered “mainstream” Canadian stories. I don’t find that I can choose my subject in that way. And I don’t think writing about Italian families and Italian-Canadian immigrants is limiting. On the contrary, it is a way of dealing with essential and universal issues of migration, identity, belonging, and so on. And I continue to be fascinated by the ever-increasing number of people who live in the spaces between cultures. I suppose that is why I would eventually like to return to my Italian detective Marisa and the Italian-Canadian policeman John Buonaiuto.

      You have taught literature and writing at most of the post-secondary institutions in Alberta. What advice do you have for young writers today?

      Work hard, don’t give up, and above all, write from your heart. Clichés, but true. Over the many years I have taught writing, I have found that it isn’t necessarily the obviously talented writers who succeed. It is the ones who work the hardest.

      This year you were inducted as an artist in The City of Edmonton’s Cultural Hall of Fame. Congratulations! How was the ceremony and how did this recognition feel?

      I was surprised and honoured to be inducted. The ceremony was much more formal than I expected with various dignitaries in attendance, a pipe band escort, and two bounteous receptions. Also most of my family and many of my friends came, which made the evening extra-special. I have been down this past year. I founded it difficult to get into my new novel, and I began to doubt that I had the ability to do it justice.

      Recently you stated that you have a “responsibility to give voice to people who don’t necessarily have voices.” What are you working on now? 

      That sense of responsibility is why I’m working on a novel based on actual historical events rather than a sequel to The Sicilian Wife. I interviewed a number of Italian-Istrian refugees when I worked on the memoir. I felt I owed them: I should tell their stories. I will deal more directly with their anguish at being exiled. The central incident occurs during the month in 1947 when 95% of the population of Pola fled. I want to capture that time of great fear. I am using different voices, different anecdotes to explore and question ideas of nationality, as well as the links between memory and landscape.

      One Response to “Un Momento with Caterina Edwards”

      1. Great interview Domenico. Love Caterina’s work and she has certainly been an inspiration to any female writer whose voice is rarely heard. gianna