After 30 years in Canada, immigrant experience still inform’s Mootoo’s writing

posted on May 20, 2014

By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald | Link to Article

It started with a walk in the snow.

By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald | Link to Article

It started with a walk in the snow.

Not a real walk in the snow, but a fictional one imagined by Shani Mootoo as a writing exercise. It may have been academic at first, but it would eventually become the heart of her new novel, Moving Forward Sideways Like A Crab.

The idea, at least initially, was for the Irish-born, Trinidadian-raised author to work outside her comfort zone, a challenge that had been put to her at a family gathering in Trinidad by iconic author Vidya Naipaul, who is a relative of the Mootoo’s. So despite having lived in Canada for more than 30 years now, she decided a good way to challenge herself was to write a Canadian scene, one that pushed her outside a “brand of language” moulded by her love of Trinidad.

She imagined the most Canadian of all Canadian scenes.

“I decided to try to write a snowstorm in Toronto,” says Mootoo, in an interview from her rural home in Ontario. “There was a person. I knew this person was Trinidadian. But I didn’t know if it was a man, a woman or where he or she was coming from or going to. I wrote and wrote and wrote this snow storm, almost for a year. I really didn’t know what was happening with it. I enjoyed it. But I didn’t know where it was going.”

It became a key scene in Moving Forward, one in which a woman named Sid trudges through a snowy downtown Toronto on her way to the hospital for trans surgery. The specifics of the character were further crystallized at another dinner party, this time back in Toronto. A man who had once been a woman was celebrating his birthday, but a young man in his 20s insisted on calling him “mom.”

“He was very, very insistent on it, even though everybody was treating this person as a man,” Mootoo says. “Initially I was a little peeved. I thought, ‘Come on, you’re a grown man let him have his moment. It’s a big celebration, stop breaking our suspension of disbelief.’ But I realized after awhile that he was actually really quite distressed. And I began to wonder about him. The trans man made a decision to transform himself. But that decision was forced on people around him. This boy was one of those. Then I realized what I wanted to do was make the snow walker somebody who was about to have transitional surgery.”

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