| Interview by Ronnie |
'Storytellers' is our special interview series, in which we talk to creatives whom we admire and find out how they are each preserving their personal stories. Today's interview is with Shoko Wanger, a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York City. Shoko has written for online publications like Freunde von Freunden, The New Yorker, Cereal Magazine, and Uppercase. I have been reading Shoko's blog for at least three years now, and it is her writing which inspired me to start journaling for myself again.
Can you tell us a few things about you and where you live?
I’m a freelance writer and editor based in New York City since 2008. I’ve been living in North Brooklyn – Bushwick and Williamsburg – for the past five years, and the community I’ve found here is one I find incredibly inspiring. I say often that Brooklyn is the first city I ever chose for myself, and for that reason, it’ll always be special to me – and though I was raised in Los Angeles and Honolulu, I think in many ways it’s more accurate to say that I grew up here. The experiences that I’ve had in this city over the course of seven or eight years have shaped me in hugely significant ways. And they've become the basis of the bulk of the personal writing that I do, which I share on my blog in a series called POV.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It seems cliche to say that there are no typical days, but there really are no typical days. Sometimes, I’ll have an interview or a photo shoot to be at somewhere in the city; other times, I work from home or in neighborhood coffee shops with other freelancers. Being a writer typically means a lot of alone time, so it’s nice to spend at least part of the day working with others. In the winter, we'll rotate meeting at each other's apartments for coffee and a few hours of communal laptop time – it's a cozy, comforting ritual.
How and when did you first discover your love for writing?
Reading was my first love; then came writing. Growing up, I read over my plate at the dinner table. I read in the car. My parents had season tickets to college volleyball when we lived in Hawaii, and I’d take a book to every game and read there too. So ultimately, it was loving to read that led me to loving to write.
On your blog, you write a lot about your family and what it was like growing up. Do you mind sharing two or three of your fondest childhood memories with us?
I had the happiest childhood, thanks to wonderful parents and an incredibly kind and devoted older brother who always treated me like a friend despite our seven-year age gap. I have trouble singling out specific memories – there are so many – but I’d say the best ones are of moments that seemed the opposite of noteworthy at the time: drawing pictures with my mom; listening to my dad’s bedtime stories; and staying up late on Christmas Eve with my brother, whispering about elves on the roof.
I've long admired your writing, and I especially love your POV blog series. Can you tell us about this series, particularly how it started and what sort of role it plays in documenting your life?
I started the series because I wanted to write about what I was experiencing in my life at the time – I was having a sort of quarter-life crisis, and I was finding that the more I wrote about it, the more I was able to find the beauty in it. I also found that the more I shared, the more I received back from readers, who began writing in often to tell me they knew how I felt. Since then, the series has evolved to focus more generally on growing up. It’s also become an excuse for me to write things down. I'll see something, hear something, dream something, and I'll think, "I want to remember that." So I'll write about it on my site the next week.
Some time ago, you wrote about a memory book your father had given you as a gift. Can you tell our readers about it, and what made it so special?
One year for Christmas, my dad presented my brother and me with a book he’d put together – it was the story of the first forty years of his life, written as a collection of captions to photographs that were never taken. When I wrote about it on my site, I called it an “autobiography made up of small moments.” Its actual title – which is much funnier and much more brilliant – is "Me, Hallucinating All Night Long, and Other Missed Photo Opportunities". Both of my parents have lived very colorful lives, full of many stories and characters and faraway places. The book filled in some of the holes in my knowledge of their past. I learned so much about my dad’s history, specifically – things I never would have known or never would have thought to ask about otherwise. I’m grateful to have it. I've paged through it so many times that it's now frayed and stained and streaked with nail polish. Pictured above is one "chapter," which spans the years between 1960 and 1970.
What other keepsakes from the past have you held onto?
I’ve held on to very few things, actually. I’ve moved several times over the course of my life, and all that city-hopping has been a constant exercise in letting go. I’ve learned not to place much importance on things. Much of what I have kept from the past I keep on display: family photographs; favorite quotes; artwork done by friends; a poem written by my mom and dad when they met.
As a wordsmith, what role does photography play in your endeavours to
I take photos all the time. Day to day, it’s quicker to snap a photo of something I want to remember as opposed to finding a moment to write it down. I’ll very often use pictures I’ve taken as starting points for POVs, but I don’t put much thought into the photos themselves – it's visual note-taking, more than anything.
Would you consider yourself a memory keeper?
I preserve memories through words. I like knowing that years from now, I’ll be able to revisit this time in my life through my writing. Also, I take so much joy in the fact that my work as an interviewer helps preserve the memories of others. Hearing their stories and sharing them with the wider world – I can’t think of anything better.
In your opinion, how important is it to preserve our stories for our future selves and our future generations?
It’s meant so much to me to know my parents’ stories, and I look forward to sharing them – and my own – with future generations of our family. I also like the idea of preserving stories for our future selves. It sometimes makes me cringe, but I like looking back on what I’ve written and reflecting on how those stories have continued to unfold. I take a lot from that. A friend said to me a few weeks ago: “We don’t know how far we’ve come until we take a moment to look back.”
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You can read the other interviews in this series here.