Kathryn Ma is a lawyer and a Bread Loaf Scholar. She was awarded the 2008 Nathan Meyerson Prize for fiction and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best New American Voices. She is a first -generation American whose parents are from Wuxi and Mengzi , China. Born and raised a Pennsylvania Quaker, she now lives with her family in San Francisco. 

Short Story Collections

All That Work And Still No Boys
(University of Iowa Press, 2009)

reviewed by Michelle reale

Interview with Kathryn Ma

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Kathryn Ma:  I've been writing with intent for about fourteen years. The oldest story in my book was published ten years before the book won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. The newest story I finished a few months before I submitted the collection. Most of the stories were published by literary journals before they appeared together in the book. I'm very grateful to the editors and readers of literary magazines, invaluable publications which are an important source of support, encouragement, and inspiration to developing writers.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

KM: I did not have a collection in mind for several years as I was writing and publishing stories. My goal was to do the best work I could and develop as a writer. Later, after I had a handful of stories that I felt were strong work, I began to think about organizing them in to a collection, and writing some additional stories that explored the themes that I had been writing about, including identity, displacement, and the legacy of family and culture.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

KM: Putting together a collection is an absorbing and challenging task. I wanted my best work to appear, but also wanted the stories to be connected thematically. I wanted to be free to include stories that explored the Chinese-American experience, but also to include stories that examined the lives of non-Chinese-Americans. I experimented with several versions of the book, adding and dropping various stories, and reordering them many times. My Table of Contents looked like the information board at a European rail station, with titles flipping through in varying order. Finally, I settled on ten stories that I felt were my strongest work, stories that spoke to one another through theme, character, situation, and language.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

KM: I have no set definition, because there are so many good writers out there experimenting with form and structure. For me, a story is usually character-driven, but not always. I am very interested in language.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

KM:  No, I try not to think about the reader. I write for my own ear.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

KM:  I'm happy that my book is being read, and I'm glad to meet readers and answer their questions, but I don't have any questions to ask them. Their experience of my book will be personal to them. I want them to think of the work on the page.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

KM: I was glad to see the stories individually published, and think that having the stories together in one volume intensifies my understanding of the themes and nature of my work.

TSR: What are you working on now?

KM: Fiction

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

KM: Sunstroke and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley. Yellow by Don Lee I've been looking at a lot of anthologies as well, and re-reading many favorite stories because I am teaching classes in fiction writing and contemporary literature.
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