Mahak Jain is the author of the award-winning picture book Maya. She also writes stories for adults. Learn more at www.mahakjain.com.
Interview by Rebeccah Love
Can you tell me about your experiences with reading and writing as a child?
I didn't really start reading for pleasure until I was 9 years old, shortly after my family immigrated to the United States. I disliked reading before then. Words seemed boring. I did like stories a lot, though. I watched a lot of cartoons and movies. But it turned out my older sister liked to read, and much to her distress I liked to copy her, and eventually I got hooked.
As for writing, when I was 11, my sixth grade teacher asked me if I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, a thing I had never considered, and that sparked an idea I kept pursuing.
What stories were you drawn towards as a teenager?
Stories where women were the heroes. I read a lot of romance novels and fantasy adventures.
How did you decide to pursue creative writing as a career?
Not sure I decided. Sort of reacted to a possibility and nothing else satisfied.
In 2016 you published Maya, a children's book about a young girls' travels through her imagination. Can you tell me a little bit about your process writing this book? What themes were you trying to explore?
Like with most things I write, it's very organic and process driven. I was trying to write a novel for nine year old kids and I ended up writing a picture book. At the time, my mind was very much on the power of the imagination and storytelling as a healing mechanism, so those themes made it into the final book. I talk about the process of working with an illustrator, which was a lot of fun, in this short video:
You attended the University of Guelph Creative Writing MFA. How did this experience shape you as a writer? As a person?
It made me more confident and taught me to be tougher on myself and my writing. It gave me access to resources I didn't have before, in the form of friendships and colleagues, and also in the form of a larger conversation about the Canadian literary community.
You've now lived in Toronto as well as Montreal. How do the two cities compare in terms of livability? In terms of their arts scene?
Montreal is more affordable. If you speak French, can get a job, and have a community in Montreal, then I think it is a great city to be an artist in terms of affordability and livability. I speak French poorly, my job prospects in Montreal were bleak, and all my family and friends live in Ontario, so that made it unaffordable and unliveable for me. I absolutely love Toronto. It is my home and I've found my niche and neighbourhood in it. It has a vibrant and bursting literary scene, which is both good and sometimes exhausting. Some of it is a lot of annoying noise, some of it is beautiful community building. A bit more to navigate in that sense.
What are you reading right now?
I usually only read one thing at a time, but right now I'm in the middle of two books: The Boat People by Sharon Bala and Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. Both excellent.
What non-literary art forms do you look to for inspiration?
Movies, though I think that's a very literary art form. I am not very well rounded when it comes to the arts. It's all about storytelling to me.
Why is reading important?
For literacy, empathy, enlightenment, and nourishment.
What are your hopes for the future of Canadian stories in the next 100 years?
That it continues to make space for a diverse array of stories and perspectives.
Who do you look up to?
What are you looking forward to?
Curling up in bed with the two books I'm reading right now.