A Fantastical World of Words and Pictures: Mira Bartók Interview

Professional author photo of Mira Bartók, a brown-haired, white-skinned woman wearing a scarf.

Today we have the pleasure of interviewing former Hope student Mira Bartók, now a professional writer and illustrator. Author of the inventive novel The Wonderling and the award-winning memoir The Memory Palace, she will be visiting Hope on Tuesday, October 1 as part of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series!

Mira Bartók, many of us have read your work, and the campus is bubbling with anticipation for your upcoming reading. Can you tell us more about what you do now, and how you got there?

When I was at Hope, I was both an English and Art major, and as circuitous as my path has been, those two things have remained constant.

Right now, I’m working on a book called The Wonderling: Singing Tree, which is the second book in my middle grade series published by Candlewick Press. I’ve been writing and illustrating for a living (along with a little free-lance editing) for about 20 years now.

Before I began writing for a living, I was a gallery artist in Chicago, and supplemented my starving artist lifestyle by working as a freelance museum educator in several Chicago museums. The first books I published, a middle grade series about ancient and living cultures, grew out of my experience giving tours at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Since that time, I’ve written and published in multiple genres, everything from nature writing to poetry to speculative fiction, memoir, and middle grade fantasy. It’s a rough life making up stories and drawing pictures, but someone has to do it. 🙂

How did your Hope English education shape you?

The biggest influence Hope had on me was the time I spent in the English Department. I loved every class I took, especially poetry classes with Jack Ridl. Jack’s classes, and my literature classes with other professors, were rigorous and profound, and shaped me into the reader and the writer I am today.

Book cover of The Wonderling by Mira Bartok, with an image of a one-eared fox above the title.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

The best book I have recently read (and I’d add that it is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life!) is called Little by Edward Carey. It’s an illustrated fictional biography of famed waxwork artist Madame Tussaud. It is a masterpiece. Lyrical, hilarious, poignant, and full of wit.

The other book I love and keep by my bedside is by a friend of mine, Shaun Tan. It’s called The Arrival, and is a wordless graphic novel about immigration, told in a fantastical way.

What project do you have coming up that you’re the most excited about?

Since I’m still working on the second book in my Wonderling series, I’m pretty obsessed with that right now, but I’m also excited about being involved in the film once we start production. I’ve been involved from the start during the development process, but once we start shooting, I’ll get to be on the set and in the animation studio (the movie will be live action with some animation, like the Harry Potter films). Right now, we’re waiting for the director to finish his other projects. Hopefully we’ll start shooting the film in a year or the year after that.

What do you now wish you had learned or done in college?

I wish I hadn’t been allowed to skip my art foundation classes at Hope. I was told I was advanced enough to skip life drawing and other beginning drawing classes, but I really wasn’t. When I transferred to art school, it was too late to take those classes. I never really learned the basics and am making up for lost time now. 

My advice to any young artist or writer or musician is this: learn the foundation of your discipline, whether it’s musical scales and theory, or figure drawing, etc. A day will come when your ideas far surpass your technical abilities to execute them. Other than that: work hard, be supportive to other artists, and always be humble and kind. That’s it!

Come meet Mira Bartók in person on October 1st! Both events are free and open to all:

  • 3:30PM Q&A in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium
  • 7:00PM reading in the Jack Miller Recital Hall

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