This interview was conducted and edited by Ashland Creek Press intern Rachel Harris.
Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: The reports of jaguars being poached to make jaguar “gum/paste” for bogus medicinal purposes in Chinese medicine coupled with children being kidnapped by the U.S. government as they came to the border with their families to legally ask for refugee status, plus memories of big cats being caged, specifically a tiger, Tony, at a Louisiana truck stop.
Q: What was your writing/research process?
A: Research was derived from personal experience from years of living and working on the southern U.S. border, time spent volunteering at a migrant shelter, reading newspaper and journal reports, and imagination.
The writing process for this story was a fluid, one-sit session. The specific details of wildlife and human experiences that had been stewing in portions of my brain and heart manifested that day into the characters of a young cat and a girl.
Q: You write powerfully about how an artificially constructed border impacts humans and other animals. Based on your work on behalf of jaguars across the Southwest, what can you tell us about the effects of caging large cats—or any animal?
A: Whether a zoo or exhibition cage, the “ice box” (holding cages where migrants can initially be detained), a jail cell, or a wall, physical obstacles to the freedom of movement in life have to alter the affected being—to what degree I can only speculate, in negative generalizations that lead me to the conclusion of some construct of spirit sickness or death.
Q: The story ends with a powerful moment of connection and understanding between a young human and a young jaguar. Have you experienced such moments of essential recognition with animals in your own life?
A: Yes. As a child I had similar experiences with a young monkey in a zoo that escaped his cage to approach me and untie my shoes. Then again with a wild vervet who approached me while I was on safari in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. More recently I was honored to watch puma kittens play while their mom watched me observing them and her across an arroyo. Mom and I had a moment where I felt like she discerned my intent and then gave me permission to stay.
Q: Which writers inspire you the most?
A: I go through phases, though Cormac McCarthy is a constant. At the moment, Colson Whitehead, Jesmyn Ward, and David Joy are inspiring to me.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
Whatever they need.
Janay Brun’s story, “Separation,” appears in Among Animals 3. Janay relates better to an outside world devoid of humans rather than an inside one full of them. At present she roams the saguaro-studded mountains and cottonwood arroyos of southern Arizona. She is the author of Cloak & Jaguar: Following a Cat from Desert to Courtroom.