Social Media Icons

Sunday, September 2, 2018

SPOTLIGHT: Stray by Tanya Marquardt @sabrinadax @littleabooks @MarquardtTanya

(memoir of a runaway)
by Tanya Marquardt

I don't read many memoirs, but when I do, it's stories like this one that really pique my interest.
Continue below to learn about Tanya's journey, including an interview.

Publisher:  Little A Books
Publish Date: September 1, 2018
243 Pages
Genres:  Memoir, Nonfiction

Brutal and beautiful, Stray is the true story of a girl who runs away and finds herself.

After growing up in a dysfunctional and emotionally abusive home, Tanya Marquardt runs away on her sixteenth birthday. Her departure is an act of rebellion and survival—whatever she is heading toward has to be better than what she is leaving behind.

Struggling with her inner demons, Tanya must learn to take care of herself during two chaotic years in the working-class mill town of Port Alberni, followed by the early-nineties underground goth scene in Vancouver, British Columbia. She finds a chosen family in her fellow misfits, and the bond they form is fierce and unflinching.

Told with raw honesty and strength, Stray reveals Tanya’s fight to embrace the vulnerable, beguiling parts of herself and heal the wounds of her past as she forges her own path to a new life.

Early Praise: 

“Marquardt’s memoir is a brutally honest reflection on her fraught adolescence and journey of self-realization.” - Publishers Weekly 

“The highly expressive narrative is often brutal and raw, a combination of truth and penance, and it feels like a confession leading toward sanity and forgiveness.” -KIRKUS 

“Stray is a raw boned beauty of a story, as fierce and brave as the author herself.” - Alexandra Styron, author of Reading My Father 

“A sharply-etched portrait of working-class teenage life in small-town Canada, Tanya Marquardt's Stray is an engrossing coming of age story that is moving, funny, and heartbreaking. Unafraid to travel to dark places, there's a tenderness, innocence and wonder to the voice that makes us nod in recognition at what it is to leave childhood behind and enter the adult world. The prose is sparse, direct, and elegant. I couldn't put it down, and read it in one day.” - Carmen Aguirre, author of Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter

Tanya Marquardt is an award-winning performer and the author of ten plays, which have been produced across Canada and the United States. Her play Transmission was published in the Canadian Theatre Review, and Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, a play about her life as a sleeptalker, was the subject of an episode of NPR’s Invisibilia. A Hertog Fellow and graduate of the MFA creative writing program at Hunter College, Tanya splits her time between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Brooklyn, New York. Stray is her first book.

In Conversation with Tanya Marquardt 

What advice would you now give your younger self? 

This is actually a deceptively hard question, and one that I have asked myself various times. I was kind of a mess back then, and at times I could come off as belligerent and angry. Also, I was struggling with addiction. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I met my sixteen year old self on the street. Would I recognize that girl? Would I help her? I like to believe that I would. Mostly I think that I lacked a sense of belonging, and of love. So I would advise my younger self to love herself, and to be very gentle and caring with herself because of all that we went through as a child. And to seek love and solace, which we did in a way with our friends, a chosen family of misfits who were fiercely loyal, despite their own struggles with coming of age. I don't know if my younger self would listen to that advice. She might just think of me as a old lady with hippy-ish leanings and write me off before going back to chain smoking cigarettes and hanging out with her friends. But maybe she would have. I don't know. 

When did you decide to write this story, and why do you think it was the right time for you to tell this story? 

In 2010, I wrote a play called Transmission, which was inspired by Sophocles' Greek tragedy The Orestia, and more specifically the relationship between Orestes and Electra, who were brother and sister. My re-imagining brought that relationship into the early aughts, when the Iraq war and the photos of torture in the CIA led prison in Abu Ghraib were first being discovered. I wanted to use the abuses that could happen in a dysfunctional family as a lens to talk about broader issues, especially the torture and disappearances that can happen during war. In order to do that I sourced personal stories of abuse within my own family history, giving those stories to the characters in the play. Watching the work was horrible for me, and for a long time I didn't know why. The performers were lovely, the design was well executed, and my writing was some of the strongest that I had written up to that point. But then I realized that my horror had nothing to do with the production and everything to do the sense that I had hidden behind these personal stories of trauma by making them a fiction. This made them seem less palpable, more easily dismissed. That's when I knew that in order to really open up a discussion around abuse, in all its forms, I needed to tell my readers and my audience that these personal stories happened to me and to my body. Realizing this as my ultimate intent pushed me to start writing my story, which started off as short personal essays and then blossomed over the course of ten years into Stray. 

When you moved back in with your dad, had you already forgiven him for the pain he inflicted on you and your family when you were younger?

This is so complex because at that point in my life I had either blocked out or minimized the abuse that my father had inflicted on our family because I wanted his approval and his love. And also I began to identify with him, a kind of Stockholm syndrome, where I felt like he had been the one who had been abused and that therefore, his behavior was permissible. He led me to believe this, and manipulated my thoughts towards this belief, and it was wrong. In many ways I feel like I was being gaslighted into seeing his version of events, and because of his active addiction to drugs and alcohol at that point, he was treating me not as a daughter but as a confidant and sometimes as a stand in for my mother. My own addiction didn't add clarity to the situation and it was from this place that I made the decision to live with my dad, who let me smoke, who drank with me, and who told me how to behave around men. And because I was made to want his attention, I was blind to much of what happened back then. 

How was your relationship with your mom when you got older? 

You seemed to indicate in the final pages that you became able to empathize with her eventually. How did that develop? I was really angry with both of my parents, and also my birth father, who I hadn't met yet and who I thought had abandoned me at birth. I didn't even know his name. Because I couldn't direct my anger and my confusion at this idea of a father, I directed it all on my mother. I don't think that everything she did when I was a child was healthy, and it was after seeing a therapist and beginning to write this book that the two of us were able to sit down and have a very frank discussion about what had happened when I was younger. My mother was able to listen to me, and to contextualize and even apologize for what had gone on between us. And I expressed my feelings, listened to her, and made apologies too. And though Stray was a literary endeavour and not a therapeutic exercise, the act of writing the book helped me to gain perspective and to give narrative to the fragmented experiences of trauma. This helped me to see my mother as complex and nuanced, a human being. Actually, it helped me see all the people involved in this way, even those who I cannot speak to anymore and who I struggle to forgive. Writing this book helped me see that to forgive is not to condone. This was very freeing for me. 

How did finding out that you didn’t have the same father effect your relationship with your brothers? Did it change for you at all? 

I don't think my discovery of my birth father altered my relationship with my brothers so much as explained the way that we had always behaved with one another. There was a kind of pecking order for each of us; my brothers were loved by my father in a way that I wasn't and that made much more sense when I was told my birth story. It also underlined the idea that I was an 'other', someone separate from, and not belonging to the family unit. It explained the isolation I felt, and it also caused me to isolate further. I think this sense of isolation also led to me being a witness to all that went on around me. In a dark turn of events, I think it also made me a writer.

I found the detailed recollection of your thoughts incredible. Do you think you remembered more because you were constantly writing? Or are you naturally able to go back to those moments in your mind?

I kept journals from a very young age, and though the entries when I was twelve were not as nuanced as when I was older, it did help to jog my memory. I interviewed people when it was possible, and looked back over old letters to help me piece together dates and events. This was helpful when figuring out chronology. Also, this particular time in my life was acute and intense. This intensity made me afraid, sometimes for my emotional well being and even my physical safety. This fear made me very aware of my surroundings, often etching particular events, sensations, people and objects in my minds eye. Sometimes it felt like I was just rewinding my life back to a particular moment, and then writing down what I was seeing as it played back. It was both satisfying and strange, and at times felt like I was out of my own body, a camera recording the action instead of what I was, which was the protagonist inside of the action.

Could you share some background on your experience as a playwright and performer? How many plays have you written total, and how many performances have you done? Which plays and performances are you proudest of?

Playwrighting and performing were my main forms of expression until I was in my early thirties; I attended theatre school in Vancouver, and spent a long time working in ensembles, were I mostly made devised theatre, which is when the a group of artists makes a play or a performance together. Along the way I started to write my own plays and make dances too. I have performed my work across Canada and in NYC - at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Vancouver International Dance Festival, Dixon Place, the Brooklyn Museum, and Mabou Mines, just to name a few. I am currently performing a punk-show based on some of the stories in the book, which was developed alongside the writing. It is also called Stray and I performed it at The Tank in Manhattan in July and at Toronto's Summerworks Festival in August. I’ll be performing it again in Vancouver in the fall. I am also developing a show called Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, a performance about my life as a sleeptalker. In 2017 I collaborated with the NPR podcast Invisibilia in an attempt to contact my sleeping self, who introduced herself to me in a sleeptalk recording as "X". Alongside InvisibliaProducer Abby Wendle, we worked with Harvard sleep researcher Deirdre Barnett, and using exercises developed in Barnett's lab, we were able to connect with this sleeping persona. That was a pretty mind blowing experience, and Abby turned it into an Invisiblia episode called "True You". Writing and performance for me are always hand-in-hand. I'm excited to see what happens next. 

No comments

Leave a Comment