The River’s Song is Jacqueline Bishop’s first novel. She is also the author of two collections of poems, Fauna and Snapshots from Istanbul. Her non-fiction books are My Mother Who Is Me: Life Stories from Jamaican Women in New York and Writers Who Paint/Painters Who Write: Three Jamaican Artists. An accomplished visual artist with exhibitions in Belgium, Morocco, USA and Italy, Bishop was a 2008-2009 Fulbright Fellow to Morocco; the 2009-2010 UNESCO/Fulbright Fellow; and is a full time Master Teacher in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University.
Loren Kleinman (LK): You’re a novelist and a poet. How do you reconcile both genres? Do you ever reconcile them? Do they live independently of one another?
Jacqueline Bishop (JB): For the moment both genres live independently of each other. I started off life as a poet and I consider myself primarily a poet. But always, deep inside of myself, I harbored the ideas of writing longer works, fictional pieces. I wanted to write short stories and novels. To do that though, to write longer fictional pieces, I went back and did an MFA in fiction writing, after I had an MA in poetry writing. That is not the only way to write fiction, but I wanted the rigor of a structured program.
I guess implicit in your questions is the question of, how do you know when you begin a piece whether it is fiction or poetry? I must confess I have not struggled as much with this idea, as I know that others have struggled. You see, for me, poetry writing is often intuitive, poems often come to me whole, in a flash so to speak, and then there is the going back and the intense crafting of the poems. Whereas, for me, in fiction writing, I almost never start from a place of having the story whole. In writing fiction I start from a place of hearing the voice of the narrator and getting to know the narrator, and then allowing the narrator to tell me his or her story. It is great detective work, but what that also means is that I am very clear, oftentimes, whether I am writing a poem or a piece of fiction.
LK: When did you decide to write a novel? What were some of the rewarding moments? Would you write another novel? What were the major challenges after only writing poetry and non-fiction?
JB: I have actually finished another novel. I finished it sometime ago and I have put it away to go back to it with fresh eyes, so to speak. The process of writing a novel for me is a very involved process and my characters become real people that walk around with me all day long. They have opinions, different from mine, and they have all these mannerisms and these opinions! For the moment I have had to shove them in the closet as I try to get on with other areas–and other people–in my life. But with your questions now they are telling me they are restless and they would like to see the light of day again!