Featured Interview With Magie Dominic
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I am a Newfoundland writer and artist, received the Langston Hughes award for poetry, studied at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and live in Manhattan. My essays and poetry have been published in over fifty anthologies and journals in Canada, the United States, Italy, and India. My artwork has been exhibited in Toronto and New York, including a presentation at the United Nations.
My first memoir, The Queen of Peace Room, from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, was shortlisted for the Canadian Women’s Studies Award, Book of the Year Award-ForeWord Magazine and the Judy Grahn Award. In 2014 I was long listed for The Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Award.
My latest memoir Street Angel (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) was published in July, 2014.
I am one of the founding members of the Off-Off Broadway movement of the sixties, and am a member of the League of Canadian Poets, My writing archives were entered into NYU Fales Library Permanent Collection. My theater archives, The Caffe Cino/ Magie Dominic Archives, were acquired by Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts in 2011. The collection is open to the public.
I currently live in New York. I don’t have any pets but I have several house plants.
At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
In school, probably around age 9. I went to an all girls Catholic school taught my very strict nuns, which I write about in Street Angel. I was always called upon to read aloud in class. It made me very, very nervous but I did it. I remember looking at the commas, and dashes, and knowing when to pause and for how long. I learned a lot about reading aloud, though under much duress!
My first writing was poetry. Poems about nature and also about death. I’m not sure why I wrote about death at such an early age.
Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
My favorite writers, currently, are Margaret Atwood, Mary Oliver, Frank McCourt and Rumi, Many others. If I find a book I really love, I’ll re-read it several times. And with each reading I learn a little more about the writer. My favorite genres are non-fiction, biography and poetry. I can’t narrow it down to one. I love them all.
Many people inspire me. It may be an entire book as in Angel’s Ashes or a one line quote somewhere.
Tell us a little about your latest book?
Margaret Atwood said in a 1995 lecture; “If you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography — but if you write your biography, it’s equally assumed you’re lying your head off.” At the risk of being accused of one or the other I wrote Street Angel, a memoir. Street Angel tells the story of a young girl in a Newfoundland fishing village in the 1950’s, and chronicles sixty years of a complex, secretive family.
The story begins in 1956. Patti Page and rock and roll are on the radio, and Ed Sullivan is on TV in black and white on Sunday nights. The Russians are sending dogs into space and the dogs have spacesuits and helmets. I’m eleven years old and in the back seat of my father’s blue Chevrolet, on my way to the home of my father’s brother and his wife, where I’ll care for their two baby boys for eight days.
The hamlet is the first time in my life that I’m away from what I call my mother’s affliction- her terror of darkness. My mother blocks doors with furniture, seals keyholes with face cloths, secures curtains with large safety pins, closes her eyes, places blankets over her head and lays motionless. But it’s never enough. She finds temporary solace during the day, alone in her garden, but she sees a terrifying world in the darkness. The hamlet represents my first time away from that world.
Part One chronicles the eight hamlet days and shows, through a series of flashbacks, how important those early years are in shaping who we become as we age and how time seems to speed up later on. The story touches upon the little streets we walk as a child and how those little streets are the universe. I live my life through the radio, Hollywood movies and the majesty of Newfoundland’s wilderness.
Several controversies are expressed in Street Angel including a mother’s hallucinations and schizophrenia; and the violence of the 1950s Catholic nuns towards the children who were put in their care. My mother is Scottish Presbyterian, and my father is Lebanese Catholic, making me, in the eyes of the nuns, the product of a “mixed home” and one step away from living in sin.
The hamlet is an opportunity to think about my life for the very first time. My father’s dry goods store failed, he lost the store and our home and we were forced into the woods to survive and lived in a cabin for two years without electricity, heat, hot water, neighbours or any means of communication. During the cabin years I rode to school with the egg delivery man, in the egg truck. I spent a good deal of time roaming around in the woods, communing with wildlife. Children can quickly adapt to life’s changes, unlike adults who may struggle for years.
Part Two of Street Angel moves with quick brush-stroke chapters to the 1960s in New York with its unbelievable highs and lows, to the end of the seventies and eighties, to the end of the millennium in Toronto, to the present. Time plays a role as the story moves forward and back from the point of narration.
Street Angel chronicles sixty years of a complex, secretive family, in a story about violence, adolescence, families, solitude and forgiveness.
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