Kyo Maclear takes you along with her on a serious soul-searching journey, observing the birds of Toronto in her memoir, Birds Art Life. Photo credit: David Wall.
Kyo Maclear takes you along with her on a serious soul-searching journey, observing the birds of Toronto in her memoir, Birds Art Life.
Set in Toronto, Maclear writes about her search for meaning and creativity through bird watching. She begins this journey by following a Toronto musician who had fallen in love with birds during a period of personal and creative struggle. The memoir is divided by seasons and confronts a variety of issues such as love, waiting, regrets, and endings. The memoir also features small illustrations by Maclear.
Maclear was born in London, England and moved to Toronto at a young age. This is the first non-fiction piece written by Maclear, who is known for her fiction novels and children’s books.
Birds Art Life is not the type of book you devour in one sitting. It takes time and patience to get through, but it is well worth the effort. One of the most refreshing parts of reading this memoir is how honestly Maclear addresses certain issues, like the balance of introspection and connection to the world. You can feel her vulnerability through every word and this what makes Birds Art Life such a different and poignant piece.
Though Maclear writes directly about being an artist as well as a mother and wife, this memoir is extremely relatable for many. She writes about both the small and large anxieties and feelings through a philosophical, self-aware lens that compels readers to reflect on their own perspectives of the world. Maclear’s observations of the natural world in an urban environment reminds readers to appreciate beauty in unlikely places.
Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life is honest and hopeful in a way that recognizes and affirms life’s struggles and small victories. It is also a reminder that good stories are not always big and fast-paced.
Nikkei Voice caught up with Maclear through email to discuss some of the influences and experiences that have shaped her career as a writer, and her new memoir, Birds Art Life.
Nikkei Voice: How did you start as a writer? What were/are the challenges and highlights?
Kyo Maclear: The first piece I ever published was in the Nikkei Voice a long time ago. (I think I was still in my late teens.) The wonderful Jesse Nishihata showed faith in me long before I had any confidence in my own abilities as a writer. I’ve been lucky to have mentors along the way who have held a space for me to grow.
The highlight of being a writer is curating your own life and living a life shaped by curiosity. The challenge is building a practice that can support you financially and spiritually over the long-run.
NV: Does your Japanese-British identity influence your work in any way?
KM: Probably. I grew up feeling like a bit of an outsider because I was often shuttling between places (Japan, England and Canada).
I didn’t really see this as a negative quality. It keep me on my toes and made me more inclined to seek out other people who occupied those boundary spaces.
I think a lot of my work emerges from a mongrel space – culturally and aesthetically. I like to make work that provokes a healthy category crisis in readers. (I like it when the question ‘who is this book for?’ is unsettled and up for grabs.)
So for example, it pleases me when my picture books find a readership across age lines. It pleases me that I’ve written a non-fiction book that pushes the boundaries of nature writing (What is it? Who does it? Who is it for?)
NV: Can you explain your experience tackling different genres of writing?
KM: I like to work with different forms. I like to chase a question or subject and then determine what shape the project should take.
NV: What was your inspiration for ‘Birds Art Life?’
KM: I was at a vulnerable point in my life and I heard of a Toronto musician who had lost his heart to local birds after years of personal and creative struggle.
I was truly curious about what would possess an urban artist to suddenly embrace nature so I decided I would contact him and find out. This was the spur for the book’s journey. I ended up following him for a year through seasonal shifts and migrations on an odyssey to find birds in our big city.
NV: How did writing ‘Birds Art Life’ compare to your other works?
KM: I have never written a book-length work of creative non-fiction so that was new.
But what really differentiated this book from other works is that I made a conscious decision that I was going to enter the flow of the world to write it.
I was not going to lock myself up in a room and pretend I live in a silo. I knew I wanted and needed to create this book among other humans and other non-humans.