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May 2, 2011

Meet Marilee: Mother of Kyran Pittman

Posted by Anonymous

Kyran Pittman’s debut collection of personal essays PLANTING DANDELIONS: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life captures the charm, and conflicts, of her “ordinary life” in suburban Arkansas. But before settling into this life, Kryan lived on a Canadian island with her artistic parents. Today, Kyran’s mother, Marilee, speaks of those early years, and the books they loved to read together.

Photo: Mom toasts the completed manuscript!

DSC09630 EDI.jpgDid you read to your daughter as a child? What did you read?   

I read to Kyran every day…at naptime, at bedtime and any time she wanted to be read to (which was often). Reading books in our household was a given. Her Dad was a writer, I was a teacher. I loved books as a child and can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. I can recall reading ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by P.D. Eastman with Kyran before she was one. She insisted on turning back the pages to one particular page. It had a couple of black dots as part of the illustration; for some reason she was fascinated with the dots. I would read a page, she would turn the page back to the one with the dots.

From the time she was born we recited nursery rhymes, like Mother Goose and ones passed down from my mother and her father’s mother. Music and sing-song was part of the language in our home.

Some of the books we read were: WINNIE THE POOH by A.A. Milne; WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein; All the Dr. Seuss books. We loved to read dandelions.JPGTHE OWL AND THE PUSSY CAT by Edward Leer and ALLIGATOR PIE by Dennis Lee. Of course we read her own father’s books too. And Beatrix Potter’s PETER RABBIT, WIND IN THE WILLOW by Kenneth Grahame. FREE TO BE…YOU AND ME was a staple in our repertoire, as was THE HOCKEY SWEATER by Roch Carrier. That was the one she and her Dad loved.

How old was Kyran when she started reading?

Kyran was probably four when she started reading. It’s hard to remember the exact moment because reading was like speaking; it was just part of what she did. She would say the words and sometimes point to them as I read to her or she would sit by herself and make out that she was reading as she turned the pages. She was such an imaginative child. Kyran was never lost for something to amuse herself with. After I would say good night and close her door, I would hear her chatting happily to herself. When she woke she immediately started babbling. It wasn’t words, as she was only a baby, but her intonations were so expressive they sounded like a foreign tongue.

Did she have a favorite series/author growing up? 

When Kyran was ten we moved to Tobago. We didn’t bring a lot of books as we were trying to economize on space. We would get into Scarborough once a week to go to the market, and we frequented a book store near the market. The children would purchase books with their allowance. There wasn’t a huge selection, but they did carry Ladybird books and the series The Famous Five, which Kyran loved. I think she probably read them all. She read the Trixie Belden series too.

She liked books about dinosaurs and science experiments. I never quite knew where she learned to pronounce all the name of the different dinosaurs, as neither her father nor I could pronounce them.

One of her Dad’s colleagues at the University bought her a copy of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White, which she devoured. That began a love affair with King Arthur and Merlin the wizard.

She also read Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT and The Lord of the Rings at a very young age, as well as the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. As a teen, Kyran loved science fiction. She read and reread the MIST OF AVALON by Miriam Zimmer Bradely and The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert.

Did you have any book or reading rituals in your house? (Examples would be: Going to the library or bookstore together, talking about the books you have read, sharing books, story time.) 

I don’t believe anyone in our home ever went to bed without reading a bedtime story. It was just how it was. We went to the library at least once a week and came home with bags of books. Books were purchased as gifts and treats. We subscribed to book clubs for children, with books arriving by mail every few weeks. Grandparents gave books as gifts at birthdays and Christmas. We went to story time at the local libraries. Books were used as bribes to get children into bed or into the bathtub.

Kyran and her sister often put on plays for visitors based on their favourite stories. Books were treated with great respect and were seldom torn or destroyed. They showed the wear and tear of being beloved.

When did you know your daughter was going to be a writer?

I think I can honestly answer this question with “always.” Kyran had such an appetite for books and stories from the time she could speak. She wrote her first poem when she was nine, about an artist friend who lived in a lighthouse. He gave her a painting in return.

Can you remember her writing as a child?

I don’t recall a time when Kyran wasn’t writing. She wrote stories, poems and plays. She enlisted her friend to act them out. She published her stories in bound copies of books stapled together and decorated. She gave her books and poems as gifts to her parents and grandparents.

Do you read advance copies of your daughter’s work?

Yes I have read, with great attention, everything she has allowed me to (and even some she hasn’t). I have always been generous with my praise and, I hope, respectfully critical.

Kyran’s paternal grandmother was a wonderful role model. She raised eight amazingly creative children. She paid attention to every creative endeavour, whether it was a child’s primitive drawing or a three act play. She commented on it with intelligence and solicited information about why this colour was used, or what was behind a decision to make this character like. She instilled a pride and sense of value in her children’s artistic work.

Do you have a favorite of your Kyran’s books?

I love my daughter’s poems. She has such economy of word and packs a punch. Her voice is strong, feminine and universal. She has a gift of making the “ordinary” extraordinary.” I love all of her poems but the two that I love most are “Launch,” a poem she wrote when her father died, and “Cloudburst,” which speaks of being a woman and choosing not to be a victim.

I love her book PLANTING DANDELIONS. I love how she speaks to the experience of family in this day and age. I love the compassion, wisdom and humour with which she tells her story. Above all I love her bravery in being so honest.

What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? 

My favourite book is one that tells a great story, preferably set in India. I adored THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy. Jhumpia Lahiri’s debut book INTERPRETER OF MALADIES is a favourite. I devoured A SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth. I recently read THE HERO’S WALK by Anita Rau Badami. And I love Kiran Desi’s THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS.

Also, BALZAC AND THE LITTLE SEAMSTRESS, by Dai Sijie, is a terrific book about the Cultural Revolution in China, as is BEIJING CONFIDENTIAL by Jan Wong. In another vein, THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeanette Walls ripped my heart out. I am currently reading PARROT AND OLIVIER by Peter Carey.

What authors, besides your daughter’s books, do you read?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Han Suyin, Naquib Mahfouz, Rohinton Mistry, Ian McEwan, Joseph Boyden, Carol Shields, Willa Cather, Margaret Drabble, A.S.Byatt.