EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jane Yolen on ‘The Elephant’s Bride’

[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]

Jane Yolen‘s 300th book is being published this fall. Known as the “Hans Christian Andersen of America”, she has written everything from baby picture books to adult novels, and won 2 Nebulas, a Caldecott Medal, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy LIfetime Achievement Award, the Rhysling Award, 3 Mythopoeic awards and been given six honorary doctorates. She has been an editor, college teacher, mother, grandmother, but identifies herself as a storyteller. [Photo Credit: Jason Stemple]


Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What’s the appeal of poetry for you?

Jane Yolen: It is emotion compressed, in which a single word has to do double and triple duty.

CT: How do you figure out that your narrative is best suited as a poem?

JY: It is not so much “figuring” but opening oneself to the possibilities. I put my fingers on the keyboard and wait. Sometimes, if I am lucky, a poem comes out.

CT: What made you decide to settle on the image of the elephant?

JY: I was interested (as a recent widow, my husband at the time of writing the poem had been dead less than three years) in testing my frayed emotions within the borders of an invite to the anthology of “beastly brides”. And suttee fitted my misery. Once I had settled on that, somehow the elephant–very Indian animal–came floating up from the subconscious.

CT: What was the initial trepidation writing about funeral pyre and widowhood? How did you overcome it?

JY: My only trepidation was getting the balance between my ACTUAL emotion and what the poem itself demanded. I had written many poems during my husband’s long illness (cancer) and his death and its toll on me afterward. I didn’t really expect this to be about me, but in the end it was. The first version ended with a joke about people making ashes of themselves. Editor Terri Windling wisely warned me off that.

CT: What’s the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?

JY: I am a folklorist manque. Meaning I know an awful lot about folklore, and am fascinated by it, but have no actual degree in the subject. The idea of animal/human pairings is a huge sub-genre. One could spend a lifetime exploring it, as a psychologist, anthropologist, poet, storyteller.