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Postcards From the Edge: Mia Kirshner

Indie favorite Mia Kirshner explores the dark side of globalization in her new book, I Live Here. We have the scoop on her travels around the world and collaborations with top-notch writers, designers, and graphic novelists.
burma page“I get the cynicism when somebody sees a book with an actor’s name on the cover,” says Mia Kirshner, on the phone from California, “but they should pick it up.” Kirshner’s new book, I Live Here, is a collaboration with writer J.B. MacKinnon and designers Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons (AdBusters). The book gives a voice to the voiceless, vividly and beautifully illustrating the lives of marginalized women and children surviving under horrific circumstances in the Russian republic of Ingushetia; the southeast Asian country of Burma; Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico; and the African country Madonna made famous, Malawi.

 

It’s a seven-years-in-the-making project, and the pages within are a mixture of journals (often by Kirshner), reportage, and graphic illustrations. From Joe Sacco’s graphic novella, “Chechen War, Chechen Women,” to the nonfiction Burma piece about child soldiers, “Join the Army…or Go to Jail!” to Phoebe Gloeckner’s “La Tristeza,” the work is true, honest, and moving. This book is also the first salvo in the I Live Here project; more books and stories from the edges of the world are in the works, and Kirshner and her partners have also started a foundation for creative writing programs in these areas.

 

In a recent phone interview with Tribeca, Kirshner—who’s been on screens since Atom Egoyan’s Exotica and is currently known as writer Jenny Schecter on Showtime’s long-running lesbian drama The L Word—talks with us about her travels, inspiration for the book and foundation, and what’s next for I Live Here.

 

Tribeca: What sparked this book?

 

Mia Kirshner: About seven years ago, I really felt like I wasn’t engaging in my life in an appropriate way. I was frustrated, and then September 11th happened. I realized that I knew very little [about the world]. I put my ideas together, made a mock book, and did a year of research, which included reading country reports from Human Rights Watch. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate or safe to go in[to these countries] without doing research. On a personal level, especially as a woman, I was so happy I did this—often by myself.

 

Tribeca: How did you start collaborating on this project?

 

MK: I called Joe Sacco, who was really the godfather of this book. To this day I’m so thankful he said yes [and gave me] encouragement. He’s an avant-garde thinker. I was a huge fan of Adbusters, so it was great to work with Paul [Shoebridge] and Michael [Simons].

 

Once people started to write their stories, all of us felt like we had to take the time to tell the stories right. The level of work that went into this book [made it take] seven years. I emailed every contributor myself.

 

Nobody really makes money from this book; my royalties go to Amnesty International.

 

Mia KirshnerTribeca: What did Simons and Shoebridge bring to it?

 

MK: Every page is handmade. The book speaks towards how art can elevate humanity, how it can express how we are all connected. You can pick up the book many, many times [and find something new].

 

Tribeca: What was the hardest place to visit?

 

MK: Juárez [Mexico] was a tough place. Many of the families have been beaten by the journalists—they were vampiric. The point is to be sensitive [in order to tell the stories the way they deserve].

 

Tribeca: What are you doing with the I Live Here Foundation? How did that start?

 

MK: I felt like I wanted to do something for the communities I met after starting the book. The best way I felt I could contribute—so many of these kids don’t have anything—[is] working with them on creative writing programs. Our first project is a grassroots creative writing program in a small prison in Malawi. It’s the main reason for the foundation, quite frankly, and I can't afford to keep funding it myself.

 

Tribeca: What did you take out of the making of the book? What do you want readers to get out of it?

 

MK: I think it’s easy to overlook the actual voices of the people to whom things have happened. These stories are particular to the countries, but they’re actually about us. For some, I hope that they’re inspired. I don’t want to sound like I’m perfect. I do believe that if people saw how connected we are…

 

The book is not meant to depress. What I got out of it was that I was deeply inspired by the people I met with [in Ingushetia, Burma, Ciudad Juarez, and Malawi]. They had grace—and I don’t mean that as a religious grace—they had grace. For me, the book was a teacher.

 



Learn more about I Live Here, the book and the foundation at the official website, where you can exchange stories about survival and inspiration.


Link to I Live Here on Facebook.

Find I Live Here at Amazon.
  

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