Today on The Australian Bookshelf we have author Irena Praitis on tour with Diversion Press. She is promoting her novel, One Woman’s Life. Welcome Irena!
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear my grandmother’s stories. Throughout my childhood, I had heard about her life, but no one had ever sat down with her to try to get a full picture of what she went through. After traveling with my family and grandmother to Lithuania in the mid 1990s, I knew that I wanted to write down something about my grandmother’s life. In 2004, I finally had the chance to visit with my grandmother for an extended period of time. Each day, we met and followed the same routine: My mother, my father, my grandmother and I would sit around my grandmother’s kitchen table. If the table was thought of in terms of a compass, my grandmother sat in the South position, my mother sat in the East position, my father sat in the North position, and I sat in the West position. I would ask my grandmother a question. She would answer in Lithuanian, my mother would translate the Lithuanian into English, I would type the answer into my laptop, and my father filmed the sessions. I was astonished by how much she remembered and by all the things I had never heard her speak about before. Once I had the transcripts, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Should I simply leave them in transcript form? Should I turn them into poems (what I usually write)? Should I try to transform them into a formal history or a novel? In 2008, I finally began to feel the voice that would best convey the stories. That’s when I sat down, opened the transcripts and began to write. Though I’m a poet, and I thought I would write poems from the material, the entries took the form of prose. I trusted that, and went with it, and the book took shape.
I encourage anyone who is interested in her or his family to sit down with a family member and to ask questions about and listen to the stories waiting to be told. Sharing the events of a family member’s life is a way to not only understand that person better, it’s a way to better understand life.
Thank you Irena for being a guest on The Australian Bookshelf. If you have any questions for Irena please leave a comment below. Click on the link to read my review of Irena’s novel, One Woman’s Life.