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Q&A with Scientist-Turned-Novelist Beverly Akerman
For most of her adult life, Beverly Akerman was a molecular genetics researcher at McGill University and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. But in 2003, after several years of feeling an underlying malaise and professional unhappiness, she decided to make a mid-life career switch. Following dreams she set aside for 20 years as a busy working mother of three, Akerman became a fiction writer. She published her first short story in early 2006, making her the first Canadian fiction writer ever to have sequenced her own DNA.
Akerman, a 52-year-old lifelong Montrealer, has published more than 20 stories to date, 14 of which are included in a 2010 collection titled, “The Meaning of Children.” Her fiction has appeared in Canada, the U.S. and Germany and has received numerous recognitions, including the David Adams Richards Prize, the J.I. Segal Award, nominations for a Pushcart Prize, and a place among the CBC-Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers’ Choice Top 10. Akerman spoke to the Sisterhood about her book, her hometown, her Jewish identity and her aversion to happy endings.
THE SISTERHOOD: All of the stories in “The Meaning of Children,” except for one, are written from the perspectives of girls or women. Do you generally only write from the female point of view?
BEVERLY AKERMAN: I’m a strong feminist and I don’t think that there are enough women’s stories told. Literature is full of women’s books, but not these kinds of stories… There are things that girl children go through that are interesting to me. I do have more stories now that are written from a male point of view, but I intended to write from a woman’s point of view.
To what extent are these stories autobiographical?
The child stories come from things that bothered me in my past. They were not maybe literally things that happened to me, but they were drawn from certain images from my childhood. In some cases, there are experiences of mine and of people I know in the stories. For instance, I do write a lot about foster children, and growing up my parents did take in foster children. Writing about foster children has been a kind of my way of saying goodbye to them. I think my parents were, at the time, more concerned about the foster children re-integrating with their families than with what it was like for us to part with these children after having shared a life with them.
The collection is divided into three parts — Beginning, Middle and End — and each one corresponds to a major life stage. Do you feel more comfortable writing about one of those stages?