In the autumn of 2014, Canadian Writers Abroad posted an interview with Magie Dominic, who has since kept us up to date with her activities in the worlds of writing and acting in New York, where she has been living for the past sixty years. Her first memoir, The Queen of Peace Room, was published in 2002 in the Life Writing Series of Wilfrid Laurier University Press, which also published her second memoir, Street Angel, in 2014.
In Street Angel, set from 1956 to 2000, she achieves intimacy by an almost note-making style, as if she were writing in a journal in a hurry. Each section is introduced by a series of temporal identifiers: names of popular songs, renowned people, or polio shots in the school auditorium. For example, for 1954, we are told that Marilyn Bell swims Lake Ontario, Marilyn Monroe marries Joe DiMaggio, and Joey Smallwood is in the news, while on the television you could see I Love Lucy and Candid Camera and an ad for Brylcream. My favourite is her observation for 1966, when she arrives in New York City: “thousands of men in New York look exactly like Jesus.” Against these snatches of information are themes developed over time, particularly her youth in Newfoundland, from her mother’s chronic “affliction” — a woman caught in the grip of fear — to Dominic’s repeated beatings by nuns at school, which she counters with imagined scenes for the lives (and end) of the Beothuk. When she is eleven, she goes to live for a time with her aunt and uncle, two formative influences, as her aunt has an eye for home decoration and her uncle is a storyteller whose wild yarns often end with “and that’s not a word of a lie.” This makes her comment on leaving home in 1961 for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh more telling: “I leave the affliction behind, but I can see its face every time I look in a mirror. And that’s not a word of a lie.” We only learn at the end what is the cause of her own affliction. Despite it, Dominic got herself to New York, married briefly in 1968, had a daughter, became a single mother, got involved in acting at Caffe Cino, and then she wrote. And at the end of the day, “It’s a cup of hot tea and something homemade…”
CWA: Where were you ten years ago?
Dominic: Ten years ago, I was in New York City, where I live, and working on a final draft of Street Angel, a book about growing up in Newfoundland, and later life New York. Street Angel (Wilfrid Laurier University Press 2014) was shortlisted for Book of the Year Award in Autobiography by ForeWord and awarded the Silver Medal from the Independent Publishers Awards. The same publisher did my first book, The Queen of Peace Room, which was shortlisted for three awards. And ten years ago, I was also, for the first time in dozens of years, assembling my art work, different mediums created in different locations. I worked on refining the collection for several years, and in 2019, I had a two-person exhibition at a beautiful gallery, Clampart, in New York City. When the student is ready the teacher appears — I guess when the artist is finally ready the gallery appears.
CWA: What top tip would you share with a writer considering a move abroad?
Dominic: There’s an expression — chance favours the well prepared. That’s the best tip I can offer anyone, regarding anything. Moving to the United States at this moment is a definite challenge considering all the upheaval. My advice would be to move temporarily and lightly, with a minimum of items. Try the new location for three or four months, if that’s possible. Especially if it’s a new unvisited location. And don’t be afraid to change your mind. We all do it.
There are great artistic opportunities in New York City, but it requires constant work, dedication, practice, action, and persistence. The competition is fierce, so a supportive friend is essential. And this doesn’t matter to everyone, but it’s important to me. I love visiting churches during the week when they’re empty. They’re a source of quiet and sometimes inspiration. New York City has many churches.
CWA: What are you doing now?
Dominic: I’m working on a manuscript that covers two time periods simultaneously — a window of time between 1960 and 1969 and the present. Two small excerpts were recently published and one excerpt was short-listed for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. I touched on the 1960s in both earlier books but I want to expand on those years — the violence and creativity, the enormous joys and unbelievable tragedies. Those years for me were combined with the anti-war movement, with readings and peace demonstrations, new forms of theatre, civil rights marches, and political poetry. It was a time when anything was possible. Two men walked on the moon! The amazing people I was gifted to work with are a list of creative geniuses at that small cafe theatre called The Caffe Cino. The Cino shaped who I became. Now, as life would have it, I’ve become an archivist of The Caffe Cino so I’m always working on that. And I’m working on a new collage. It’s taking forever but it will be a good one, I hope.