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Israeli-Canadian Author Ayelet Tsabari Talks ‘The Best Place on Earth’

Award-winning writer Ayelet Tsabari speaks with Shalom Life about Israel, moving to Canada, and her upcoming short story collection.
By: Ashley Baylen
Published: March 26th, 2012 in Culture » Books » Interviews
Ayelet TsabariPic: Elsin Davidi

Ayelet Tsabari was born in a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel to a large family of Yemeni descent. After traveling extensively throughout South East Asia, Europe, and North America, she has now settled (for the time being) in Toronto.

Tsabari was first published at the age of 10 in an Israeli children’s magazine, and continued to seek recognition throughout her teenage years for her short stories, poems, articles, and essays.

In 1998, she moved to Vancouver. Initially struggling with writing in English (Hebrew is her first language), Tsabari sought alternative ways to tell stories. She studied film and photography in Capilani University’s Media Program, where she directed two documentary films, one of which won the grand prize at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival.

Tsabari is a two-time winner of the Event Creative Non-Fiction Contest, 1st runner-up in PRISM International Non-Fiction Contest, and has been shortlisted in several other contests. Her stories have been featured in magazines and anthologies including; Event, Room, Grain, PRISM International, and Passion Fruit.

The Best Place on Earth, her short story collection, will be released through HarperCollins in 2013.

Tsabari sat down with Shalom Life to discuss writing, moving to Canada, and The Best Place on Earth.

Ashley Baylen (AB): I understand you started writing at a very young age and were even published at the age of ten! What initially sparked your passion for writing?

Ayelet Tsabari (AT): I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in telling stories. Even before I could write I used to draw comics and then use them to tell stories to my mother. My older sister and my father were both a huge influence on me early on. My sister transcribed some of my early stories before I knew how to write and was the first person to give me a diary for my sixth or seventh birthday and say Write! My father, who was a closet poet, read everything I wrote and encouraged me. As soon as I learned the alphabet I was writing every day and reading everything in sight.

AB: You write everything from fiction and poems to essays and newspaper articles. Do you have a preference between fact and fiction?

AT: I actually only write fiction and creative non-fiction. I haven’t written poems since my angst-ridden high school phase, which is probably a good thing, and I stopped writing for newspapers many years ago. I found that I was too busy meeting deadlines to write anything creative in my spare time. Fiction is definitely my first love. I came to creative non-fiction later in life, when I first tried writing in English, my second language. For some reason, it was easier for me to envision writing in English in a new genre because I associated fiction with Hebrew. Now, I go through phases with fiction and creative non-fiction. Creative non-fiction is such an interesting genre; it’s like using found objects to do art; the restrictions that it presents can force you to be creative. But as much as I enjoy it I think I have a slight preference toward fiction; I love being able to create an imaginary world and live in it for a while.

AB: Why did you decide to move from Israel to Canada?

AT: It was never a decision, really, more like chance. In my early twenties I traveled a lot. In one of my trips to India I met a Canadian guy. We fell in love and after living together in Israel for a while we moved to Vancouver. I never thought I’d stay for as long as I did, especially since the relationship didn’t last. I love Israel and had always pictured myself living there. If you told me back then that I’d end up living in Canada for thirteen years I’d never have believed you. Just as I would have never believed that I’d be writing in English one day, because I have such a strong connection to the Hebrew language. But I am glad that life brought me here: Canada has been wonderful to me and I’m happy to be living here.

AB: You have directed two documentaries. How was the experiencing telling a story through film different than writing?

AT: I enjoyed making films. I am a very visual person: I am a passionate photographer and I do some photography work, mostly headshots for other authors! But looking back, I wonder if my interest in film was born out of constraint. When I first moved here I couldn’t imagine writing in English and felt frustrated that my one skill was non-transferable. Since I had always loved photography I signed up for media studies and found in film a new language to tell stories. For that time in my life, it was perfect.

AB: Do you intend to continue working in film?

Related articles: Ayelet Tsabari, The Best Place on Earth, Award-winning, Author, Short Stories, Fiction, Camilla Gibb, Documentary, Israel, Canada
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