Press "Enter" to skip to content

Linda McFerrin brings Oakland to life

In the misty grayness of dawn, before the city has shaken off
the night’s slumber and come to life, she walks the circular shore
of Lake Merritt, eyes scanning the backyard of her world, the place
that provides the ink to her writer’s pen. Born in New York, raised
in England, resident of Japan for years and a world traveler who
now resides in Oakland, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, poet, novelist,
travel writer, and teacher doesn’t have far to go to find the
setting of her next story or poem.

McFerrin read from a variety of her work for the Contemporary
Writers Series at Mills last Tuesday. She took her audience from
the snowy northern rural setting of Japan in her novel Namako:
Sea Cucumber
, named Best Book for the Teen-Age by the New York
Public Library, to the suburban hills of Marin in her book of short
stories, The Hand of Buddha, to the highlands of Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, in her soon to be released novel, Dead Girls
Can’t Lie: The Anatomy of a Zombie

Whether McFerrin is wandering the globe looking for her latest
freelance travel article or simply walking the paths of her own
backyard, place and setting are always essential to her writing.
McFerrin quoted Marcel Proust to define her philosophy saying, “The
real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but
in having new eyes.” Living in Oakland, she sees the many cultures
that are represented in her work.

Not only does McFerrin write about her own backyard and her
world travels, but she also transcends the borders of the natural
world and sets foot in the supernatural realms of fiction taking
her readers to places only she can describe. In Namako: Sea
she finds herself exploring an unfamiliar world of
spirits and ancestors, ghost stories and secrets.” In Dead Girls
Can’t Lie: The Anatomy of a Zombie
, McFerrin’s supernatural
thriller takes her readers on a journey, as her protagonist is
chased by Clement, the ghoulish character of death, around the
world, from Haiti to Tokyo to Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. McFerrin
wrote this novel in response to her own personal struggle, while
coming to terms with the death of her daughter.

Las Mariachis del Muerto earned McFerrin the Katherine
Anne Porter Prize for fiction. Her explorations of culture and
setting lend the texture and variety, making her texts a journey
for her readers into the natural and supernatural realms of
writing. She is currently working on another novel set in the
melancholy atmosphere of the Northern California coast, a place
where the atmosphere “gets under your skin and won’t leave you
alone.” She is looking forward to traveling to Shanghai, where her
grandmother lived and raised her mother. Her father was a British
journalist. She longs to revisit her past saying, “China is a
mystery to me,” and this attitude will probably be the inspiration
for a future novel.

For McFerrin, the world of writing is a borderless one of
personal experiences in places that fuel her creative energies. For
the foreword of The Hand of Buddha McFerrin wrote, “As a
travel writer, I’m obsessed with romantic places and faraway lands,
but often, when I’m looking for a story, I can’t get any further
than my own backyard.”