The 5 Ws with Naomi Beth Wakan

June 29, 2015

Who is your favourite author, or the author who has had the greatest influence on you (either personally or creatively)?

Billy Collins and WisÅ‚awa Szymborska were my role models for poetry. I loved their clear writing so that I knew in each of their poems who was doing what to whom, and exactly what they wanted to tell me about the situation. My essay models are Montaigne, the father of all personal essayists, and Philip Lopate. Besides these I often have momentary passions during which I read everything my favorite author of the month has written e.g., Anne Perry (for detective stories), John Le Carré for spy stories, Renata Adler for a fresh way of writing fiction (I am enthralled by her “Speedboat”).  I have never tried fiction except in small incidents I give gross poetic license to in my essays, but if I do in the future, she will be my model.

What one book couldn’t you live without? 

I could actually live without books, because, although I have a large library, when I am bored, I usually sit down and write a book. I prefer writing to reading. My favourite shelf is elastic but if I was on a desert island today, I would take “The Remains of the Day”(Ishiguro), “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (de Waal)and “The uses and abuses of history”(Margaret Mc Millan). If I was going tomorrow to the desert island, it might well be another list.

Why is writing important to you?

Writing is the way I best communicate with the world.  I am loquacious and reasonably social, but I prefer to be on my own saying what I really want to say with words on a blank page.

Where do you write? Do you have any rituals, special implements, etc.?

I write in the early morning 7-10 am, when my intelligence is sharp.  I read and daydream (essential process for writers) in the afternoon and take notes of ideas for poems and future essays then. The next day I transfer them to their respective files on the computer. I appear to all intents and purposes a rather dizzy old lady, but actually I am disciplined and well-organized otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write all the books I have written. “One page a day and you have a book written by the end of the year” I tell my writing workshop students, but they don’t take much notice.

When did you first decide you were a writer, or when did you first feel like a writer?

In my last year of high school, when the career counselors came around, my eyes lingered over a book entitled “Journalism”, but I pleased my mother and did a social work degree. I started writing educational material on Japan in the 80s (having lived there for a couple of years) and after Annick took one of my children’s books, I was hooked.


Naomi Beth Wakan is the author of more than 30 books, including Late Bloomer: On Writing Later in Life, A Roller-coaster Ride: Thoughts on Aging, and the poetry collection Segues, all available from Wolsak & Wynn. In October 2013, she became the first poet laureate of Nanaimo, BC, and earlier this month, the Federation of British Columbia Writers awarded her the Honourary Ambassador Award "in recognition of the dedicated and spirited way she has made live poetry a rich and everyday component of civic life in her community."


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