Interview with Deena Metzger, Author of La Negra y Blanca
Deena Metzger is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, storyteller, healer and medicine woman. Story is her Medicine. She has written, taught and counseled for over fifty years, in the process of which she has developed therapies (Healing Stories) which creatively address life threatening diseases, spiritual and emotional crises, as well as community, political and environmental disintegration. She has spent a lifetime investigating Story as a form of knowing and healing. As a writer, she asks: Who do we have to become to find the forms and sacred language with which to meet these times? Her latest novels are Feral and La Negra y Blanca, both published by Hand to Hand, 2011. La Negra y Blanca has won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature 2012. The novels The Other Hand and Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, and also Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems are published by Red Hen Press. Other books: Skin: Shadows/Silence A Love Letter in the Form of a Novel, and What Dinah Thought (Viking) The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them and the cancer journal Tree, in the volume Tree: Essays and Pieces, (North Atlantic Books) that features the celebrated Warrior Poster on its cover. Tree testifies to a woman’s triumph over breast cancer. It is an example of her many formal and spiritual explorations imagining a literature responsive to the complexities and necessities of our time, especially the value of actively respecting the numerous voices that constitute an ecology of mind attuned to a sacred universe. Writing For Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds is a classic text on writing and creativity that articulates these possibilities for fellow writers and as do her plays Not As Sleepwalkers and Dreams Against the State. She co-edited the groundbreaking anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, one of the first testimonies to the reality and nature of animal intelligence. Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and From Grief into Vision: A Council examine the tragic failure of contemporary culture and provide guidance for personal, political, environmental and spiritual healing. A radical thinker on behalf of the natural world and planetary survival, a teacher of writing and healing practices, a writer and activist profoundly concerned with peacemaking, restoration and sanctuary for a beleaguered world, she is basing her work now on the ideas outlined in the posting, “19 Ways to the 5th World.” She also teaches a program, “A Training for the 5th World.” She, and writer, Michael Ortiz Hill, introduced Daré to North America in 1999. Daré is a unique form of individual and community healing based on indigenous medicine traditions and contemporary wisdom. The Topanga Daré relies on Council, alliance with Spirit and the natural world, ancestor work, indigenous and wisdom traditions and teachings, music healing, dream telling, divination, kinship, and story telling to achieve personal transformation, peace making, community healing and social change. There are other Darés in the U.S. and Canada. Daré occurs on the first Sunday after the new moon at her home in Topanga, Ca. It is open to the public. Deena convenes ReVisioning Medicine, a unique collaboration in diagnosis and treatment between medical people and medicine people, physicians and healers. She is also Senior Advisor to the NGO, everyday gandhis that supports grassroots and indigenous peacebuilding activities in Liberia and West Africa. As a spiritual practitioner, Deena is devoted to the Pathless Path and the No Enemy Way. She has taught and lectured widely, nationally and internationally. www.deenametzger.com www.deenametzger.wordpress.com (Ruin and Beauty Blog) www.toconsider2012.wordpress.com email@example.com
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sea Gate, a neighborhood at the tip end of Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. It is surrounded by water on three sides. As soon as I was old enough, I walked around the community, day and night, stopping at the ocean and the bay. I had the idea that a writer knows how to walk and so I thought if I really learned to walk, as a writer does, Neruda, for example, I could become a writer.
When did you begin writing?
I wrote my first poem – or spoke my first poem when I was three. Though I wrote from time to time, poems, stories, the true writing began when I was 24 years old. I had told myself that I would have to write a novel by the time I was 25. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be a writer. So at 24, despite being a wife and mother and being in graduate school, and a political activist, I began the novel and finished it in time to assure my future.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
I write when I can. I like to begin in the morning before I see anyone or speak to anyone. But I can also write at night. What is essential is quiet and privacy. Sometimes I have to go away for weeks in order to find the writer. Sometimes I have to be in silence for days.
What is this book about?
La Negra y Blanca tells many stories that interweave with each other. It explores relationships between people, historical and imaginary, in the bloody tragedy of the on-going Conquest and its effect on the real and spiritual lives of indigenous people, particularly the Maya. The wisdom ways of the indigenous and the horrific historic circumstances and current politics in Guatemala and Latin America are illuminated through the inter-connected personal stories of five individuals who meet on Christmas at Lake Atitlan at the home of a Tz’utujil woman Doña Vida, the mother of Morena Monteforte, whose father, Mario Monteforte Toledo, a Ladino, was a former Vice- President and prominent Guatemalan novelist. The five, Blanca the writer, her lover, Emiliano, Morena, Reynard, her husband, and Victor Perera, a writer and journalist and human rights activist. The book asserts and imagines indigenous vision, wisdom, language, beauty restoring itself as those who still carry those ways, like La Negra, the mysterious protagonist, enter living history through the text.
What inspired you to write it?
A question entered my mind and I couldn’t ignore it: Did I ever meet La Negra? The book addresses the question.
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
When writing a novel, it often takes me about ten years from conception to publication. Publication itself is a joy, as I work with a beloved editor, Stephan Hewitt. He is also the publisher of Hand to Hand, “a community based endeavor that supports independently published works and public events – books, plays, music, performances, films etc. – free of the restrictions that arise from commercial and political concerns. It is a forum for artists who are in dynamic and reciprocal relationship with their communities for the sake of healing, peacemaking, and restoring culture and the planet.”
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
The book can be purchased through Amazon, in paper and on kindle. It can also be purchased from Book Clearing House 1-800-431-1579 firstname.lastname@example.org or ask your local, favorite bookstore to order it.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Write and write and write. Don’t be distracted or disheartened by commercial interests and publishing fashions. Serve the heart and soul of the work, the complexity and revelation of Story and devote yourself to finding the exact words and forms to express these.
What is up next for you?
I am working on a novel, A Rain of Night Birds. It came to me in the same mysterious way that I have received all the other novels I have written. In this case, a character’s name and her profession were delivered to me and I have to discover who she is and who she is becoming. I am also beginning to consider a third and final volume in a series that began with Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and then From Grief Into Vision: A Council. The third book, whose working title is Sipapu, explores the current call for all of us to live according to the peaceful and beauty ways of the 5th world. A world in which ‘all our relations’ thrive and we truly live on behalf of all beings.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I have taught writing or rather, I have guided writers for fifty years. Some of what I learned from writing and teaching is in my book, Writing For Your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds. (Harper One) It has become a classic writing text and is still in print after 20 years. When writing that book, I understood that every life is a story. The exploration of one’s own story, knowing the meaning that it offers to each life, is, for me, a way toward meaning and healing.