Norma Kassirer comes from a long line of writers: her father wrote articles for Canadian magazines about his experience in World War I; her brother was a prize-winning poet; a great great aunt wrote poetry for Harper's Magazine in the 1800s; and a great great great uncle founded a literary journal in New York City with Edgar Allen Poe and, under a pseudonym (Harry Franco), produced a number of best-selling sea-faring novels. Both of her daughters are engaged in writing and publishing.
Norma still remembers the last words of her first poem, written at a very early age, alone at the table in the family dining room in Buffalo, New York. The words were, "and in its place stood a golden rose!" She does not remember what the poem was about, but vividly recalls the thrill that ran through her as she read that resonant last line. Where had it come from? She had no idea, but she knew that, in search of another ... and another ... thrill of such dimension, she would never stop writing.
This has proved true. "Magic Elizabeth," her first book, is now re-written for Breakfast Serials in serial form.
"The Doll Snatchers," her second novel for children, was published in 1969. Her adult short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines. The Hidden Wife, a collection of a number of her stories, was published in 1991. Her poems, which tend toward the narrative, have appeared in a variety of publications, and she continues to do performance readings of her poetry.
Early on, Norma wrote and directed musical plays. She has also given numerous readings of her work at universities and arts centers and has taught writing in a variety of schools. When she is not writing or talking about it, she is painting or putting together hand-made books.
There are elements of fantasy in Magic Elizabeth. But how does the story connect to your real life, or to the real lives of your daughters?
I write what comes to me. I love to write -- short stories, novels, poetry, and have done book reviews, written for magazines and newspapers -- articles about art, about individual artists, and have written and edited house organs. I continue to do readings of my work and now write mostly for adults -- poetry and short stories.
Since childhood what I've loved best is to sit down and just let the writing happen. In some of my stories, an old house is likely to appear. Perhaps it evolved from old family homes I visited as a child. When my children were small we told stories to one another and read favorite stories and poems aloud. I'd make up bedtime stories every night. Each night was a new story -- magical adventures which involved the girls' neighborhood friends.
All my writing, it seems, has evolved in harmony with what is going on in my life at the time. Even at sad, difficult times, it has continued, though never directly about what is happening.
Do you remember reading serialized stories when you were a child?
I read the weekly stories my father wrote and published in a local newspaper. His column was titled Suburban Silhouettes, and was based on incidents in the life of our family So there we were, mother, father, sister, brother and myself, serialized week after week in stories based loosely on fact, which strayed, for the sake of an amusing chapter, into fiction.
What did you read as a young person? Which of those books might kids enjoy today?
Dickens. All of it. Longfellow's poetry, A.A. Milne, Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry, The Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories, Anna Karenina, which I read again and again, hoping the ending would change, making up happier endings of my own, and a book titled Little Princess Nina, about a very young princess, who lived in the Black Hills of Russia. And Alice in Wonderland -- the best of all! Every bit of it and Through the Looking Glass!
What part do you think reading plays in a writer's life?
Oh, endless! The feel of the pages, the excitement of touching the cover, the pictures -- the stories, the poems -- how things are said -- beautifully, tragically, the sounds of words in glorious harmony with other words. The magical bringing-to-life of what can't be said any other way. The words of poetry, so close to music, to which, as Walter Pater noted, everything aspires.
Given your long experience as a writer, has your method changed over time? Does it get easier? Harder?
I never had a method. The words came as they came and still do. Perhaps with a little more subtlety than when I began. I write more poetry than I once did -- at least the writing's taken that form on the page. There's poetry in good fiction, of course -- also the differing forms that poetry can take -- the music that informs the best writing interests me, and I am perhaps more aware of it as I have continued doing what I love to do.