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10 Questions for Sarah Rose Cadorette

"We came to help reforest the land, but as we walk through the bukhara, the local name for our patch of wasteland, we pack rocks into the parched soil with each step. Even the cactuses growing here are a miracle. When we come across a scorched circle of ash, I am alarmed, but not surprised; one of the reasons Haiti is so severely deforested, so disparate in its environment and economy from the Dominican Republic just next door, is that one of the only opportunites for people to make money is by burning timber down into charcoal to sell."
from “Seedlings in the Bukhara,” Summer 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 2)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I was very fortunate to attend a well-funded public school, where I could do things like write, illustrate and bind my own hard-cover book. So in fourth grade, I wrote a story about an enslaved girl in the southern U.S. who runs away from the plantation where she’s being held. It’s…uninformed, to say the least. (It’s dedicated to “All of the Men Who Fought for the Union.” Oh, sweet naïveté!)  But it reminds me of how deeply a white child raised in the North can misunderstand the system of white supremacy that not only engendered slavery, but influenced her education on the subject and her own beliefs. Keeping it around reminds me I will always have work to do.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I’m a huge fan of Milan Kundera. I love how his writing is minimal yet lyrical and is interested primarily in sweeping themes and shared human experiences throughout history. I absolutely love Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, and everything I’ve read by Edwidge Danticat. As much as I would like to think they’ve influenced my work, I can’t claim their styles or use of symbolism. I think really what their work opens up for me is the possibility of recognizable yet strikingly unique realities that deny any attempt at generalization—which is invaluable for any travel writer. Philip Gourevitch, Katherine Boo, and Suketu Mehta are all writers who perform exhaustive descriptions and analysis of their subjects (which can be as complex as the Rwandan Genocide), and I stand in awe of their work.

What other professions have you worked in?
Oh boy, here we go: I’ve been a college writing professor, a waitress, a community organizer, an ESL teacher, a nonprofit executive and administrator, a cashier, the director of a community center for punk shows and meditation groups, and, in a few challenging moments, a freelance writer/editor. I’m currently the U.S. Director of Education for an international nonprofit focused on leadership and environmental education.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A writer. So…look at me now, Mom!

What inspired you to write this piece?
I had been studying international aid, particularly that of USAID, the IMF and World Bank, and where they intersect with issues of environmental injustices and agricultural trends for a couple of years before I went to Haiti. Most people I knew could talk about how Haiti was “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere,” but couldn’t say why. I wanted to make it clear for an American audience just how much Haiti’s current economic and environmental crises are the product of colonization, international politics and white supremacy disguised as 'aid,' while also emphasizing my own learning curve on the lived reality of these forces.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
The landscape of Minnesota, where I grew up. The winters make no pretenses or apologies; they are both gorgeous and devastating. If my writing could be described that way, it will have found its way home.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Close friends, and Jerald Walker, who continues to be incredibly supportive of my development as a writer, though I’m no longer in his classes. I try to get a solid mix of writers and non-writers to read it since I hope my work sings for people who approach writing as a craft, as well as those who simply read to learn something new, or to find a wavelength that vibes with them.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I would love to be a singer. It’s so rad that they can take their art form with them wherever they go, and it’s such an easy way to connect people of different cultures and languages. If only I didn’t sound like an untuned oboe.

What are you working on currently?
I’m currently revising an essay on claustrophobia, intimacy, and death. It ties together my family history of secret-keeping with a traumatic incident that occurred in my childhood, and my present-day avoidance of deep intimacy. I’m also doing research for another essay on Korean Christian exorcisms in the United States, though I couldn’t tell you at this point where that train’s headed.

What are you reading right now?
I’m rereading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I pretend is for work. I also finished Swing Time by Zadie Smith recently, which I highly recommend.

SARAH ROSE CADORETTE's nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Meridian and Cultural Survival Quarterly, and won Second Place in the 2017 Frank McCourt Memoir Prize. She is working on a book of essays that address travel, relationships, the compulsions to know and possess, and international development. She also spends her time perusing Missed Connections, and writing a review of the best entries. Find her at @mizzconnections.

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