It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Catherine Kapphahan, author of Immigrant Daughter: Stories You Never Told Me.
About Catherine Kapphahn:
Catherine Kapphahn’s Immigrant Daughter: Stories You Never Told Me received The Center for Fiction’s Christopher Doheny Award. It was also shortlisted for a Del Sol Press Prize. She has received artist grants from the Queens Council on the Arts. Her writing has appeared in Motherwell Magazine, Newtown Literary, the Feminist Press Anthology This is the Way We Say Goodbye,and CURE Magazine. She earned an M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University and B.A. from Hunter College. Catherine is an adjunct lecturer at City University of New York at Lehman College in the Bronx, where her students’ brave stories continue to inspire her. Catherine also is a yoga teacher. She grew up near the mountains in Colorado and now lives between two bridges in Queens, New York with her husband and two sons.
About Immigrant Daughter:
Winner of The Center for Fiction’s Christopher Doheny Award
Shortlisted for the Del Sol Press Prize
American-born Catherine knows little of her Croatian mother’s early life. When Marijana dies of ovarian cancer, twenty-two-year-old Catherine finds herself cut off from the past she never really knew. As Catherine searches for clues to her mother’s elusive history, she discovers that Marijana was orphaned during WWII, nearly died as a teenager, and escaped from Communist Yugoslavia to Rome, and then South America. Through travel and memory, history and imagination, Catherine resurrects the relatives she’s never known. Traversing time and place, memoir and novel, this lyrical narrative explores the collective memory between mothers and daughters, and what it means to find wholeness. It is a story where a daughter gives voice to her immigrant mother’s unspoken history, and in the process, heals them both.
Author Interview with Catherine Kapphahn:
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- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
When I was growing up in Colorado, my Croatian mother never told me anything about her past. After her death, when I was twenty-two, I began this pilgrimage to learn more about her unspoken history. Unknowingly, I began to make my way through the geography of her childhood and young adulthood. She was born between two world wars; she was orphaned, fought tuberculosis, and forced to immigrate countless times. My mother’s death and the stories that she never told me, compelled me to become a writer. If I hadn’t taken all the twists and turns of that journey, I’d never have discovered what made my mother into who she was.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
I love this question! My Kryptonite has been the belief: Do I really deserve to be a writer? I grew up with dyslexia and didn’t know until after I finished grad school. As I was growing up, I never received any signs from the outside world that I might become a writer. Not one. I didn’t keep a journal. I didn’t tell stories. I didn’t invent tales. Instead, I knew what it was like to struggle to learn to read. I knew what it was like to trip and skin my knee over a simple sentence. I knew what it was like to gets Ds and Fs on my high school papers. I knew what it was like to be placed in remedial English classes in college. In other words, I knew what it was like to always feel like I wasn’t good enough. Years after I discovered my dyslexia, I realized that there is some magic when your brain processes things differently, and those qualities have helped me tell compelling stories. It’s only recently that I’ve wrestled that deserve-to-write feeling to the ground. I said to her, “I may not be like other writers, but I deserve to write. My stories and voice have worth.”
- Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Yes! There is a story behind so many of the stories in Immigrant Daughter. I planted seeds in the first half of the narrative that allow the reader to make many interconnections in the second half of the narrative. And sometimes readers surprise even me when they notice interconnections that I must have written unconsciously. One discovery readers wonder about are the letters in the book. There are chapters where I write from my family’s perspective and the letters woven in, are the real letters that my parents wrote to each other.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
It was brutal to write the scenes in Immigrant Daughter where my grandparents die, during WWII, of tuberculosis. They died long before I was born and my mom never spoke about them because she was a child when she lost them. So when I wrote those scenes, I felt like saying to my grandparents, “I’m just getting to know you, how can I let you go now?”
- What is your favorite childhood book?
When I was 12-years old, I was captivated by Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. It is a novel inspired by her own experiences as a child. Kerr’s family escaped Nazi Germany in the early days when her father was about to be arrested. As a child, Judith experienced multiple immigrations, having to learn new languages, watching her parents struggle and reinvent themselves in new countries. Now when I look back, I think this little novel revealed something of what my mother when through when she fled the former Yugoslavia. Judith Kerr continued her story with her two memoirs: Bombs on Aunt Dainty and A Small Person Far Away.
- Have any of your books been made into audiobooks? If so, what are the challenges in producing an audiobook?
This past December I was thrilled to record Immigrant Daughter for Audible! It came out this January. I spent many months over the pandemic practicing to record the book. Before I started, I had no idea there were so many aspects to work on when you record your book. I worked with my Argentinian friend and Croatian friends to make sure I was pronouncing all the foreign words correctly. I did vocal and breathing exercises; I did face and jaw relaxation exercises. I steamed my throat in the mornings and drank a lot of herbal tea and water. I worked with a coach on dramatizing the scenes and developing the different voices that I would use for each character. In Immigrant Daughter there are so many characters!
- What book is currently on your bedside table?
I just finished Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford. I’m a slow reader, but I read this book in two days. It’s powerful! It is a memoir about Lacy’s experience with sexual assault at an elite New England prep school, and how the school covered up the assault and persecuted Lacy in different ways that impacted her entire life. The memoir looks deeply at how powerful people and institutions manipulate judicial systems, how they use shame, guilt, and humiliation to crush victims. In this case though, Lacy takes the power back into her own hands and has the final word with her breathtaking book.
- What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
I think that Julie Otsuka’s slim novel Buddha in the Attic allowed me to see that there are unusual ways to tell a story. Her book feels like reading a memoir, poem, and novel all at the same time. The intimate narrative follows the journey of Japanese picture brides. From the first page, a collective of women’s voices washes over you. Suddenly you are with them on their boat journey from Japan to San Francisco, from dreaming of America to spending the first night with a stranger, from childbirth to working the Midwest fields, from cleaning houses to being spoken down to by your own American children. Julie Otsuka taught me that there is freedom when you glide into different perspectives, when you fall into the cadence of a list poem.
- Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, are there any you’d recommend?
I am a huge audiobook listener and I often listen with my two sons.Right now I’m listening to Rick Riordan’s third Percy Jackson book with my nine-year old, The Titan’s Curse. And my fourteen-year old and I are listening to James McBride’s The Color of Water. Some of my Audible favorites have been Elizabeth Acevedo’s Clap When You Land, Tania Romanov’s Mother Tongue, Nadia Murad’s The Last Girl, and Channel Miller’s Know My Name, and Hana Schofield and Atka Reid’s Goodbye Sarajevo.
- Where can readers find you online and learn more about you?