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AN INTERVIEW WITH PAULETTE JILES Paulette Jiles Born and raised in Missouri, Paulette Jiles emigrated to Canada in the late sixties, where she continued to live for more than twenty years, making her life as a writer, reporter, photographer and teacher. She is one of Canada's best-known writers, having won their top three literary awards, including the Governor General's Award for Celestial Navigation, a volume of poems about her ten-year sojourn as a reporter in the Far North. Her novella Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma Cola is available in the United States under the title, A Manual of Etiquette for Young Ladies Crossing Canada by Train. Jiles has currently moved back to the United States and is living in San Antonio, Texas. Her homecoming is the subject of Cousins, a work of creative nonfiction. A memoir of her years in the north to which she refers in this interview, entitled North Spirit, has just been published in Canada by Doubleday, Ltd. This interview was conducted by Kay Bonetti for the American Audio Prose Library, which offers recorded readings and interviews with 126 distinguished contemporary writers. For complete listings, write AAPL at PO Box 842, Columbia, Mo 65205, or call 1-800-447-2275. An Interview with Paulette Jiles /Kay Bonetti Interviewer: You seem to have very definite ideas about the function of family stories, and the whole principle of storytelling. Can you tell us about those ideas? Jiles: Storytelling is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport. It's one that anybody can indulge in, and is expected to, in families that still have the old traditions, and even in some that don't. These family stories that come down to us inevitably partake of the technical solutions that one finds in epic poetry and quests, in romances and historical romances. What we're taught in school are the techniques of the novel, rather than of the tale. I don't know why, but we're not taught what a tale is, what a fable is, what a fabulist is. Family stories become romances and epics with great heroes and great villains, and wicked old witches, and a fair and beautiful princess who is loyal to the end. All the great cardinal virtues are seen in these stories: love, forbearance, courage, loyalty. And all the great sins as well. Interviewer: What's the story about Uncle Gerald shooting the swimming pool that keeps coming up over and over again in Comsi'ws? Jiles: Thafs a story about a story, a metastory. It grew out of my first attempt to go home to find stories and tape them. A bunch of us were sitting on my Aunt Donna's front porch down in southeastern Missouri, in Poplar Bluff, and she was telling a story about having been sent to the chicken yard to catch a chicken. She was supposed to kill it for Sunday dinner when she was only seven. Great-Grandma Byford, who's the wicked old witch in all of our family stories, sent this poor seven-year-old child out there in the chicken yard to catch a hen, and Aunt Donna said, "While The Missouri Review ยท 93 I didn't really want to catch it, I would run behind it and make catching motions, and tell myself that I had tried, so I could go back in the house and tell Grandma I can't lay a hand on it." And having solved this in her own mind, she's running around the chicken yard, making catching motions, trips on a root and falls on top of the old hen, who is now screaming and squawking, and Aunt Donna is saying, "Help me, help me! What do I do now?" This is all very funny, we're laughing, and my cousin Susan Marie said, "Aunt Donna, tell another story." She said, "I don't have a lot of stories. Go ask your Aunt Jenny about the time Uncle Gerald shot the swimming pool." So I took my tape recorder and my microphone, and I went to my Aunt Jenny She said, "Oh, that! Well, he was a truck driver...


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