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“When you write something, you can finally see it and thus set it free”

Interview with Cypriot writer Anna Kouppanou

Anna Kouppanou – the Cyprus IBBY Hans Christian Andersen Nominee for 2022 – is an educator, a philosopher of education, a poet, and an author of children and young adult fiction who views creative writing as a deeply empowering process.


“When you write something, you can finally see it and thus set it free. Writing for me is a way to exteriorize something that does not necessarily exist before you allow it to become an object. This can be a certain feeling, which lacks form but resides inside you,” she said, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival.


“My picture book, Phoebus and the Whale, negotiates precisely that. It is a book about the workings of fear and anxiety. The protagonist, a little boy, is overwhelmed by fear – that is, a fear without a face. When the boy manages to give this fear a form and turn it into a tangible object, both him and his fear are set free.”


One of the key motivations for her as a writer is to better understand and communicate with herself, she said.


“Writing for me is a way of becoming more of myself. Such practices are ‘technologies of the self’, as Foucault would put it – they are ways to construct yourself. So, for me, writing is not even a motivation. It is a way of becoming and communicating with myself. When the book is published, writing becomes a way of communicating and connecting with the rest of the world.”


Ms Kouppanou’s work promotes inclusion and acceptance through the genres of fantasy and realism, while encouraging interspecies coexistence, respect for otherness – in all of its forms, and cultivating the need for social change.


“Many of my books tackle social issues. The Incredible Discovery of Sebastian Montefiore, for example, addresses the matters of inequality, representation and voice, and the role of media in all this. It is a political allegory unfolding through a story about dogs. In the book, dogs have acquired voice and thinking minds. Therefore, they want to claim their rights and speak their mind. Every time they attempt to reveal their great secret, however, this revelation comes out as a fictional media product. In other words, the issue raised is also about the nature of truth and the way it can exist in a post-truth era,” she said.


“Fantasy allows me to stretch the limits of my world – the limits of possibility itself. It is a genre that lets you deal with the most cruel and challenging subjects through allegory. Realism is a more head on approach to things – it is a re-positioning of yourself in familiar and often painful situations. Both approaches, however, are quite therapeutic.”


Parents often ask Ms Kouppanou how they should encourage their young children to engage more with literature, and she advises them to encourage, first, a certain deposition of wonder about the world.


“The arts, and literature especially, allow you to make ‘what if’ questions and these apply to books and stories, but also to the world itself. Now, the easiest way to encourage children is by example. Children learn not what they are told but what they witness. If they see their parents read books and value reading, they will most probably do it themselves. Finally, reading aloud to children from a very young age, encourages children to connect reading with caring and love,” she said.


And with regard to assisting aspiring authors who wish to emulate her award-winning ways, Ms Kouppanou suggests they totally immerse themselves in the process and treat it like being in a love affair.


“I would advise them to start writing and keep on doing it as long as they want to. You need not permission to start doing what you love,” she said.


“I would also tell them to devote themselves to writing; to treat it as falling love – and thus get carried away by it, but also to experience writing as being in love – and thus really work on it, believe in its transformative power, and persevere.”


At the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival, Anna Kouppanou and will join Chinese writer Yin Jianling to discuss their acclaimed work and the transformative power of literature for children.