Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

“Rhythm in My Head:” an interview with Ann E. Burg

Since she was about four years old, Ann E. Burg, a middle child of four siblings, was walking around, “writing poems in [her] head.”

               Michael fights, fights, fights                                                         

               He fights for his rights

              When he wins, he grins . . .

Ann’s mother  and  father always had classical music playing on the radio, which became a backdrop to Ann’s poetry. She never became a musician, but she learned early on that “music had the power to heal people and to fill the world with something good.” Today, she even talks in lyrical seamless imagery-filled prose.

“I always had rhythm in my head and words dancing,” she says.

Ann and I sat down for this talk at a local beach where she was vacationing. The soft wind brought in a hint of salt and welcome freshness, a beautiful backdrop to Ann’s story of how her life and her passion for writing led her to the  haunting novel in verse, “All The Broken Pieces.”

https://katiaraina.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/all-the-broken-pieces-by-ann-e-burg/

Ann’s childhood passed in the shadow of the Vietnam War. When she was young she knew she wanted to be a writer, but if someone told her she’d end up writing about the war, she would have a hard time believing that.

“I was disgusted with the Vietnam War,” she says. “The adults at the time, their veins would stick out as soon as the subject came up — which was constantly! I felt like I gave up my childhood for Vietnam.”

When Ann grew up, her perspective changed.

“I was a young adult walking in New York City,” she says.  She still remembers how her shoes pinched her feet as she clicked her heels down the sidewalk thinking how nice she looked and just soaking in the sun, when she saw a veteran — an old man in a wheel chair. (There were some Vietnam war vet markers on his chair, and he wore an American flag bandana around his head.) The man’s legs were missing.

Ann froze and stared at the man. “It was like he got up and slapped me on the face,” she says, remembering. “That was when I realized: I gave up nothing. He was the one who gave up so much for the war, not me.”

————————————————————————————————————————

HOW THE PIECES FIT TOGETHER

It was as though life conspired to throw bits and pieces of this story at Ann. When she worked as a kindergarten teacher, Ann taught a child who had been airlifted out of Vietnam, just like Matt, the protagonist of “All The Broken Pieces.” Her experience teaching other grades from middle school to high school exposed her to all kinds of other kids and personalities.  “They taught me more than I taught them,” she says. “I love kids, but they also can be very mean to each other. I saw that as well.”

Later, while Ann was doing research for a story about two brothers, one of whom she imagined as having served in the Vietnam War, a picture and a quote from a book took hold of her imagination. The picture showed Amerasian children, half-American, half-Vietnamese, sitting on the road amid the signs of devastation. The book described them as “dust on the road.” Dust on the road.  The sad image of it haunted and haunted her and wouldn’t let go. When Ann sat down to write the story she had conducted all this research for, she tried to cast the image aside. Her main character was supposed to be Rob (who ended up as the story’s antagonist)! Instead, an Amerasian kid, Matt Ping, started whispering into her ear. She tried to resist this, to stay focused on the story she thought she had wanted to tell.

“So one day Matt just sat on my shoulder and dictated the beginning — the first five pages or so,” Ann says. “And then I realized it was his story.”

My name is Matt Pin

And her name, I remember,

Is Phang My.

His name

I will never say,

Though forever I carry his blood

In my blood,

Forever his bones stretch in my bones.

The rest was “All The Broken Pieces” fitting together into a heartfelt song.

————————————————————————————————————————

ANN’S JOURNEY TO PUBLICATION

I asked Ann if she had experienced any setbacks on her way to publication. I readied my pen for a long answer. But after taking a moment to think, Ann shook her head. “No,” she said. “Not really.” She received rejections, sure she did, but she just never considered them “setbacks” or “hardships.”  She had chosen the practical career of a teacher — which she loved for ten years — so she was never worried about starving herself or her family. Other than that, she simply lived her life and wrote, wrote, wrote. One low moment she does remember, is when she was in college, and a writer’s club of some sort refused to allow her in. “Here is a setback if you want one,” she says. Because it hurt. “How dare they?” she remembers thinking. “I am a writer! I’ve always been a writer!” She now says this may have been one of the best things that had happened to her.

“Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I were chosen . . . if I would even end up here at all,” she says. “You learn more from being in the back of the room than when you are in the spotlight.”

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July 30, 2010 - Posted by | Contemporary History, Interviews, Writing Mirror | , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Great interview. The book is on my wish list.

    I enjoyed reading her journey to publication. I also believe “You learn more from being in the back of the room then when you are in the spotlight.”

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | August 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. Thanks so much, Medeia! I too loved her little bits of wisdom!:)

    Comment by Katia Raina | August 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. First, I ADORED Ann’s beautiful book. I was so drawn in by the language and by the poignant story. And I was so determined not to cry, but of course, I did.

    Katia, I’m so happy for you that you got to meet Ann. I enjoyed your interview.

    Comment by nan marino | August 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Nan,

      Your comment made me smile 🙂 Thank you! Maybe you will get to meet her also, one of these days… I think you two have a lot in common 😉

      Comment by Katia Raina | August 1, 2010 | Reply


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