By Jaclyn Mika (RSJ ’08)
Many of our talented alumni and faculty have stretched their writing muscles beyond journalism into the realms of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The RSJ Book Club is an occasional series created to highlight these works. If you know of a notable grad you’d like to see featured, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann Rauhala is Associate Professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and Teaching Chair for the Faculty of Communication and Design.
Prior to joining the RSJ faculty, she worked at The Globe and Mail as a copy editor, assignment editor, beat reporter, foreign editor and featured columnist; made documentaries for CBC’s The National Magazine, was senior editor of Counter Spin, and an editor at the Toronto Star.
In 2008, she edited The Lucky Ones: Our Stories of Adopting Children from China. The Lucky Ones is a collection of memoirs from families who adopted Chinese-born girls from China, including Rauhala’s own piece about adopting her daughter.
Below is a Q/A with the author:
What made you want to tell these stories?
I saw a gap and I wanted to commemorate our adoption.The shelves were stocked with how-to manuals and travel tomes but held little that told meaningful personal stories or addressed the wide range of reasons why people adopted from China. A literary agent told me I should write about just my own family, but, as an editor and journalist, I was more interested in capturing many perspectives. Regular moms might have knitted sweaters or made a scrapbook, but I’m an editor, so I did what I knew best to try to celebrate this event in our lives.
What surprised you the most during the process of gathering these stories and putting them together?
The generosity and commitment of the contributing writers was inspiring. No one was paid for their writing and any proceeds were going to charity. All were willing to share what adoption meant to them, to bare their fears, to speak of their losses. Some of those essays still make me tearful when I read them.
What was your process like completing the book/how long did it take?
It took longer than I expected because it wasn’t easy to manage with classes to teach and young kids at home. And oh, yes, I was doing an MA then, too. From the moment the idea came to me to the book publication was about five years. I felt guilty about how long it took until I realized that the time span meant I was able to find an older adoptee of 16 or so to write herself.
What were some of the challenges of telling these stories?
For me, the main challenge was to set and sustain a readable tone – to be frank without being brutal or emotional without being maudlin. The circumstances of the girls’ births and abandonments were often heart-breaking as were the reasons why some parents were adopting. Also, while several contributors were professional writers, not all were, so the level of editing needed was unpredictable.
This may seem trivial but the final layer of editing wasn’t done digitally. I had to plough through manually and then enter individual changes on a master document. That was a challenge.
Why do you think it’s important for people to read these stories?
I hope people will consider that raising kids, however they come into your lives, means taking risks, accepting difference and embracing change. The adoption expanded our world view and dramatically enriched our lives. Of course, kids’ll do that.
Why was it important for you to tell them?
I wanted to commemorate her arrival. It’s hard to put into words but … my daughter is not an exotic toy or an adorable pet or a flattering accessory. She was a baby born in difficult circumstances who deserved every chance to thrive – like all babies. Economics and politics coalesced so that we got the opportunity to raise her. Like any parent, I cannot imagine life without her – well, the kitchen would be tidier and life would involve fewer loads of laundry.
What has changed since you wrote this book?
A lot. China has dramatically reduced the number of children being adopted internationally so the past exodus of tens of thousands of children will remain an anomaly. Loosening of the one-child policy, increased domestic adoption in China, new restrictions on who is allowed to adopt – all these have changed the situation.
But another change worth noting is the increased availability of DNA testing. With that advance, families may be more easily able to find blood relatives, maybe even siblings.
What was writing your own story of adopting your daughter like?
To be honest, it was easy. I wanted some levity in the book and so I assigned myself a light and breezy topic- naming her. I’d been a columnist at The Globe and Mail long enough that I had found a ‘voice’ suitable for less sober subjects.
What is her reaction to it now that she’s older?
She still hasn’t read it, to my knowledge, though many of her friends have. However, she seems tickled by the idea. When she’s in bookstores with desktop search engines, she’ll search for it and leave it on the screen. So, yeah, if you are in Chapters and The Lucky Ones pops up on the screen, you’ll know she has struck again. That’s her on the cover.
What has your favourite reader reaction been?
Our daughter’s friend, also an adoptee from China, at age 12 read the chapter I wrote and told me she thought it was funny.
What is the main message that you hope people take away from the book?
Adoption isn’t a poor second choice. It can be an amazing path. Not one of us OWNS our children, biological or not. We are simply lucky enough to raise them. They are “ours” and not “ours”. Oddly enough, my daughter is so much more like me in personality and temperament than her brother, our biological son. She and I have different talents, tastes – and hair colour– but no one can tell us apart on the phone.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become an author?
Prepare for rejection and do not take it personally. Also, everyone, even a professional editor, can benefit from a skilled editor.