Quan Barry is a novelist, playwright, and poet based in Wisconsin. Her second novel, We Ride Upon Sticks, was our February book club pick. At the end of the month, members had the opportunity to submit questions for the author ahead of our Zoom discussion. During our virtual hour together, she shared about her book, feminism, witchcraft, and writing, among other things. We learned that she has a world premiere work running in Forward Theater at the moment. We also had the unique pleasure of hearing Barry recite a poem for us.
Members had several questions for the author about We Ride Upon Sticks. The witchy book follows a girls’ high school field hockey team in the 80’s. It is loosely based on the author’s own experiences and is set in the place she grew up. FBC founder Renee has summed it up perfectly: “If Now and Then, Pretty in Pink, and Practical Magic all had a baby who grew up to play field hockey, it would be this book. Perfection. Chef’s kiss.” One element that everyone seemed to love about the book was how well readers get to know all the characters.
Selecting specific highlights from the discussion was a challenge; there were so many good moments! Here are some of the best points that came up that evening.
On her personal history reflected in the book:
QB: Danvers historically used to be part of Salem. It was actually the part of Salem called Salem Village. The parsonage was right up the road where I grew up. And that’s where the original accusations about witchcraft were actually made. I also played field hockey from seventh grade to 12th grade. The thing that’s very fictionalized is that our field hockey team and just the program in general was always a powerhouse. All the places are historically accurate. The only place that maybe isn’t is at the very beginning of the book when they’re in New Hampshire at the field hockey camp. I actually never went to camp. Everything else is 100% factual, and that was really kind of the dynamics of my high school as well, what I kind of present there, which are the more positive things. It is my hometown and I’m very fond of it. In that sense, I didn’t have to do a lot of research in writing the book.
FBC: Can you talk about the influence of your poetry in this book?
QB: I was trained as a poet. That for me, is the start of everything. And I feel very fortunate that I was trained as a poet because hopefully that gave me a strong basis just for language. No matter what you end up doing, if you have language as a sort of a strength in your toolbox, that will carry you really far. The other thing that I think poetry is undervalued for, although it’s starting to change a little bit, is the idea of timing. It’s true that for me, because this book is comedic, there’s a certain kind of timing. I know that comedians talk about timing, but oftentimes writers don’t. There’s just timing involved in your sentences and how you craft them and how they’re put together. Poetry has given me that kind of timing that I think helps ultimately on the level of the sentence in this particular book.
FBC: What makes this a feminist book to you?
Quan Barry: In many ways, the book is timely. For a long time, I’ve been thinking about wanting to write about teen girls in sports because I realized that there’s a hole in our literature, and in our movies. Oftentimes when we see sports movies or sports books, it’s about football, it’s about basketball. But obviously, for example, the women’s national soccer team has been doing really well recently. And so it’s like, why aren’t there more books about women and team sports? Well, usually when we see books about women at sports or even movies, it’s about things like ice skating or gymnastics. It’s really important to me that I wanted to write a book that looked at the idea of team sports. That’s the first part of it.
Many of us are familiar with the Alison Bechdel test. It’s the idea of having a work in which you have women who are not concerned with the male gaze and all things male in that sense. I didn’t necessarily set out to write a book that passed that test overtly, but because I was focusing on a group of girls, it just made sense. They’re very in their own lives, they’re living their own truths. Relationships and those kinds of things come up too, but that’s not the main purpose of the book.
Finally, I’ll say, thinking about the idea of feminism specifically, witchcraft for me is the ultimate form of female empowerment going back thousands of years. The charge of witchcraft has always been used to keep women in check, but I wanted to look at the positivity of it, the way in which it empowers women, the way in which female relationships empower women. So yes, I do see this particular book as being very feminist in nature.
If you’re interested in reading feminist books with a like-minded community, attending discussions like this, and disrupting the patriarchy in general, consider joining us! Our March book of the month is Girlhood by Melissa Febos.
Quan Barry’s Book Recs:
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Holy Moly Carry Me: Poems by Erika Meitner
Lord of the Flies by William Golding