Interviewed by Sarah Starr Murphy
Read Yume Kitasei’s fiction piece, Hatch
Sarah: Writing about children can be tricky. It’s easy for writers to veer into the cutesy or nostalgic. The children in this story read as real children with all their complications, love, and occasional violence. Do you write about children often? How do you avoid the stereotypes and clichés?
Yume: I do write about kids a lot, because kid’s emotions are so unfiltered. When I write about kids or from kids’ points of view, it unstoppers something for me. When I was a kid, I used to have an explosive, inexplicable rage that would well up inside. It was like I had a pilot that was always lit, and it didn’t take much to ignite. I was big crier too! Then I went through puberty and suddenly it was like a switch. I felt like I was a little more in control of my emotions, maybe because I had the language to articulate to myself and others what was going on inside. Weird, because I know that’s not the stereotype when you think of kids versus teenagers. Anyway, that’s what I try to tap into when I write about kids – that feeling of the full force of all those emotions brewing inside you all the time, and not being able to explain to an adult what you’re feeling or why.
The chicks and the children are near-perfect parallels. They are adorable and terribly vulnerable, impossible to protect. Miss Ling cannot save three of the chicks from dying, and she cannot save Karina from the impending grief of her mother’s death. I’ve seen these issues raised in writing about motherhood, but never so well in a story about a teacher. How does Miss Ling’s status as a mother-figure (but not mother) affect her decisions?
Teachers—or anyone in a parental role—feel heartbroken and helpless in the same way. She feels responsible, but also less empowered to help Karina the way she needs to be helped. At the same time, her responsibility is less than a parent’s, which is why Miss Ling is able to shirk actually sitting down and having a real conversation with her. She’s trying, but she doesn’t exactly do what she’s been dancing around. But she tries, which is better than nothing.
When Miss Ling says, “I didn’t know how bad I was at this,” she tells Jerry that she’s speaking about the chicks, but obviously it has a broader resonance. Teachers are often placed in difficult situations; realizing “the things she couldn’t teach” is Miss Ling’s breakthrough. Do you think Miss Ling had a substandard preparation for the classroom, or do you think this was something she needed to learn on her own?
I’m not sure if they teach this in teacher training! But also, the fact that she’s fairly young herself means she also doesn’t have the life experience to know how to help her kids deal with situations. She barely can herself!
In the beginning, Miss Ling declares the class not ready for a discussion about death. It’s Miss Ling herself who is unprepared, but the chicks and the children nudge her in the right direction. Do you think in the end that Miss Ling has managed to help Karina?
I do. Nonverbally and indirectly, but I think that can still be meaningful.
What are you reading at the moment? Or, what was the last book you read that you really loved?
I just finished two books that I loved: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Both are so well written. The first one punched me in the gut and the second one kicked me in the pants. In a good way, of course.