Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HAPA Summer Reading With Lise Funderburg

HAPA Summer, Hip Hapa Homeez! Whether you’re beaching, picnicking or sunning and funning, Your Hip Hapa wishes you good times beyond your wildest dreams. And, while you’re basking in the season’s pleasures, check out our ‘hot fun in the summer time’ suggestions.

One idea is to watch the latest slideshow promo of our documentary War Brides of Japan that we’re busy working on now. With award-winning filmmaker Jessica Chen Drammeh (http://anomalythefilm.com/) as our Consulting Producer, we’re destined to succeed.

To stay updated with our project, just 'like' the War Brides of Japan fan page on Facebook. And, in case you missed it, here’s the original 30-second spot, one of three finalists in the Snipler Competition sponsored by FilmBreak.

Or, for better resolution, watch it on OneNewMedia:

author Lise Funderburg
If your preference is for summertime reading, one of my favorite books about the mixed race experience is Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity by Lise Funderburg. Coincidentally, Lise is our featured Hip Hapa Homee this month. Here’s her website: http://www.lisefunderburg.com

Q: Lise, how did your parents meet?

A: My parents, Marjorie Lievense Funderburg (white) and George Funderburg (black), met in a Quaker Housing cooperative in Philadelphia in the 1950s. She was there for the cheap rent and the ideology. He was there for the cheap rent.

Q: How did you grow up?

A: My two sisters and I were raised a few blocks from that housing co-op, in an unusually mixed neighborhood called Powelton Village. I think it was a perverse experience to grow up there, in the sense that it didn't represent the majority of communities I found when I went out into the world as an adult. The best kind of perverse, that is.

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: I have to say it happened to me rather than me planning and plotting it from an early age, like so many of the writers I admire have done. It was simply something I was good at, and over the years and through various types of jobs, I just kept inclining in that direction. Finally, I found myself at age 30 wanting to commit more firmly to a worklife direction, and this was it. My commitment was a serious one, and I work hard at the craft, trying vigilantly to better my skills every time I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).

Q: In my opinion, Black, White, Other...is the definitive book about being mixed in America. No one before had captured the mixed person's story the way you did for me. What motivated you to tackle this subject?

A: Thanks (blushing)! The book started out as a radio documentary, a master's thesis for Columbia Journalism School. It was a reaction against the historical pathologizing and stereotyping of the mixed race experience. Basically, I wanted to complicate the national discussion about race by giving voice to the many ways in which this (seemingly monolithic) group of people experienced it...on both the personal and public levels. 

Q: On the other hand, your book Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home--A Memoir is a very personal account of your family. How difficult was it writing that book compared to collecting stories for Black, White, Other...?

A: Black, White, Other...was a collection of oral histories, so that work was dominated by listening and interviewing, then careful, careful editing. Oral histories are no joke, which is to say, it's no small thing to be entrusted with someone's personal stories, and even in the editing of a single word or punctuation mark, you have to act out of great respect and with tremendous sensitivity for preserving his/her voice and point of view. My own writing was limited to the essays that opened each chapter, and the task of each essay was to set the context for the subject at hand. I tried putting more personal material into those essays, but I kept finding they overwhelmed the oral histories. I believe that had something to do with their being associated with the authority of the book's narrator versus being in any way more spectacular. So I cut them out.

Pig Candy, on the other hand, was both harder and easier for the fact that I didn't have to listen to anyone but myself in choosing its content. You're freer, but you're also limitless.

I did much more reporting for Pig Candy, whether it was interviewing my dad and his contemporaries, stone fruit experts, maritime historians, farmers, old school chums, etc. I also had to choose, constantly, what I was willing to share versus what experiences or emotions were too private or too undigested. The writer Phillip Lopate says that when we're writing first-person nonfiction, we are creating our narrative selves through a process of subtraction, and indeed, the Lise in Pig Candy is the Lise “I” think the reader needs to know in order to understand what's going on. That said, it's about economy versus subterfuge, and the parts of me that seemed important were fully and honestly disclosed to the absolute best of my ability. I also worked hard to be as honest about my father as possible.

young Lise with her dad
One thing that's interesting to me about feedback on the book is that while most people seem to get the multilayered personality of my father and our relationship, some have super-strong and fairly two-dimensional takes on him. What pleasantly surprises me is that I don't feel offended or hurt by that, partly because I recognized with Black, White, Other...that once you put your book out in the world, it becomes many books, the property of each of its readers, and your take is only one, no more or less authoritative than theirs. I also feel like I did my absolute best to render the truths that I know, and my faith in that is deeply satisfying.

Q: Please explain why you're an advocate for the humane treatment of Thai elephants.

A: Most humans find these giant land mammals intriguing, and I had the opportunity to learn about them years ago when I was asked to write about a Tennessee refuge for (the now defunct) Hallmark Magazine. Fast forward to last year, when I had the opportunity to pitch an adventure travel story for MORE magazine. I suggested going to a highly unusual elephant park in Thailand, where I'd be allowed to interact with the animals in ways that were strictly forbidden in Tennessee. I have to admit that in addition to my curiosity and desire to be in physical proximity to the elephants, I also wanted to be in physical proximity to a 95% Buddhist culture, Thai textiles and Thai food. All of it was fantastic; none of it disappointed.

Q: Any plans for future books?

A: I'm finishing up an eBook version of Black, White, Other...with some updated content and a celebrity guest foreword, due to come out in fall 2012. Also, I'm looking for ways to write more about my dad's hometown in rural Georgia, which I came to love after working on Pig Candy. Stay tuned!

Well, Hip Hapa Homeez. Summers are sweet, but short, and all too soon we’ll be back to gloomy, doomy winter days. Until then, get yourself a Hapa Teez t-shirt to remind yourself of HAPA-ier times in the sun. And, you can support the Watermelon Sushi film while earning a rear crawl credit on it. You can also 'like' our Hapa Teez Facebook page and join our Hip Hapa Homeez group where we discuss being multiethnic, interracially involved, transracially adopted or crossing cultures—no matter what the season.

HAPA Summer!

Your Hip Hapa,


MsXpat said...

I'm finding it very interesting learning about all the amazing mixed ethnicities and cultures out there. Life is wonderful and grand isn't it :0)

Yayoi Lena Winfrey said...

You, yourself, are wonderful and grand, MsXpat.