Tsering Yangzom Lama examines the humanity of Tibetans at Vancouver Writers Fest 2022 — Stir

A STORY Of love and separation in the aftermath of China’s invasion of Tibet, We measure the Earth with our bodies (RandomHouse Canada Penguin) tenderly weaves the stories of an exiled Tibetan family through space and time. Tibetan-Canadian author Tsering Yangzom Lama’s debut novel is a 50-year journey through the innermost corners of a family’s heart, from their escape through the Himalayan mountains in the 1960s to the streets of Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood in the 2010s.

The book was shortlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize and is also long-listed for the 2022 Center for Fiction First Novel Award and the Toronto Book Awards. On the heels of these honors, Lama will perform at the Vancouver Writers Fest 2022 for two events: Between The Pages: An Evening with the Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalists on October 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Playhouse Theater (alongside Kim Fu, Rawi Hage , and Suzette Mayr, with moderator Leslie Hurtig); and Generational Fiction: Stories of Lineage, History and Things Passed Down on October 21 at 10 a.m. at the Waterfront Theater (with Aamina Ahmad and Jasmine Sealy, hosted by Marsha Lederman).

“This is my first time attending the Vancouver Writers Festival and I can’t believe I’m actually going to be a part of it, I’m so excited,” Lama said in a phone interview with Stir. “Meeting so many of these amazing writers coming together in Vancouver is a huge privilege and a dream come true for me.”

Born in Nepal to an exiled refugee family, Lama immigrated to Vancouver with her family when she was 12 years old. Although she has always loved literature, she says she never considered becoming a writer until she was in college.

“At the time of my birth, my family had left the refugee camp and I was growing up in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal,” says Lama. “Many exiles lived there. Our house was full of relatives, people coming and going, staying for months at a time. It was a sort of open house cleaning.

“I have a diary from when I was eight, when I was still learning English,” she adds. “My sentences were very basic and some of them weren’t grammatically correct, but I had written in that diary that when I grew up I wanted to be a writer.”

When Lama started writing We measure the Earth with our bodiesShe was pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University, which included coursework in Modern Tibetan Studies and Art History. The courses proved invaluable in terms of information about his research.

“It really shaped what has become a practice for me, of looking at artwork as inspiration for what I write, in the world I walk into,” says Lama. “I spent a year at the library reading about art and metaphysics, using as much as I could, not always knowing what I was going to do with it, but found it deeply interesting and personally nurturing. Eventually, I found ways to take those traditions, rituals, and ideas and turn them into narrative devices.

“I was learning a lot about Tibetan female mystics and saints, as well as the ancient practice of oracles in Tibet,” she explains. “It doesn’t thrive in exile and certainly didn’t do so well because of the Chinese invasion. They treated many of the native practices of our culture as superstitious and backward and banned many of them, although they have persisted.

For We measure the Earth with our bodies, Lama began to write about a village oracle. She was visiting museums in New York when she came across a small statue, which inspired the one in the novel. The way Lama put it, she made up her own story for the sculpture. Through her writing, Lama was able to piece together fragments of her story, feeling the weight of the stories she had discovered along the way.

“As Tibetan people, whether you are in exile or living inside Tibet, we are all keenly aware of the ongoing colonization of our country and the innumerable effects both for those inside the Tibet, who live under immense oppression, and for those of us outside who are denied our homeland and access to our heritage and even family in Tibet,” Lama said. aspects of our lives. It affects our relationships with our families, our history, our language. It affects us on an individual level and on a community level. And for me, writing in this space is also a response to that.

“We are fundamentally in a space in which the literature that has been created about us is often inaccurate and sometimes really destructive and harmful and perpetuates racist stereotypes, whether on the Chinese side or the Western fetishization of the Tibetan people, which is ultimately a form of dehumanization,” she adds. “My writing practice is, I hope, the opposite of that. What interests me is to present and examine the humanity of the Tibetans, like any other people.