Interview with Ashley Caranto Morford, author of “It Was On A Joyful Night in November” in We Shall Be Monsters
By Derek Newman-Stille
Q: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
Caranto Morford: Hi everyone! Thank you so much for supporting this project! I’m Ashley Caranto Morford. My pronouns are she/her. I identify as mad and am on the asexual spectrum. I am a woman of colour, a member of the Visayan and Luzonese diasporas on my mother’s side and British on my father’s side. I am currently a PhD student in Literature and Book History at the University of Toronto, which occupies the territories of the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabe nations.
Q: What inspired you to explore the privilege Victor occupies in this story? Victor’s arrogance in seeking to create life has always struck me as an act of a person in privilege. What in Mary Shelley’s tale inspired you to see his privilege and arrogance?
Caranto Morford: I wanted to emphasize that Mary Shelley’s Victor is representative of colonial scholarship. Victor is representative of Western science’s ongoing legacies of exploiting marginalized communities without consent. He steals from communities under the banner of research, for instance in his taking of body parts from graves and other spaces without the consent of those human and other-than-human peoples. As is also representative of colonial scholarship, he refuses to be in ongoing relationship or kinship with those communities, which is emphasized when he refuses to be in relationship with his Creation. Further, the desire to know everything and to think that one has the right to know everything is a colonial desire. We must accept, respect, and understand that there are certain knowledges that not everyone has the right to, but, as is too often true of colonial scholarship, Victor does not honour that.
Q: You evoke a commonality between the blind man De Lacey from Shelley’s story and Victor’s creation Wollstonecraft. What inspired you to connect these two individuals?
Caranto Morford: In the Nick Dear adaptation of Frankenstein, De Lacey is an educator and a mentor to the Creature. They grow close, they teach one another and learn from one another, and, at times, their discussions engage with and confront ableism, albeit their discussions and moments of learning/teaching are often problematic and colonial. But I wanted to honour the close connection they grow to have in the Dear adaptation, and especially to honour it and re-imagine it from a decolonial lens.
Q: You explore a multiplicity of identities in the small community in which Wollstonecraft has found themself. What inspired you to evoke so many different identities?
Caranto Morford: Representation matters. This world is filled with diverse people, yet all too many mainstream movies and books present the world as narrowly white, cisgender, heterosexual, neurotypical, able-bodied, thin. And, when those of us from marginalized positionalities are represented in mainstream media, it is all too often in stereotypical, highly problematic, highly oppressive, highly colonial ways. That needs to change. Seeing ourselves represented in our humanities in films and books is so crucial in helping us to understand and love our beautiful and diverse identities and selves. I want to see the world represented in its diversity through films and books, and I want films and books to celebrate the beauty of decolonial pasts, presents, futures, and ways of being.
Q: Your story brings out the way that Mary Shelley’s text was haunted by colonialism. What inspired you to bring out these colonial aspects of the narrative?
Caranto Morford: The novel was written when the British Empire was the world’s dominant colonial force. The ways in which the text is shaped by colonial ideologies and the ways that it both grapples with but also upholds colonialism has always interested me, and yet I don’t think that the colonialism and the anti-colonial potentials of the text get talked about enough. I wanted to bring these aspects to the forefront. What about the shift in tone from the 1818 and 1831 versions, with the 1831 version taking on more overt mentions of and connections to colonialism and imperialism through Clerval? The main story of Shelley’s text, too, is buttressed by the story of Arctic exploration, and European/Western exploration of the Arctic is deeply intertwined with colonialism and imperialism. Yet Mary seems incredibly skeptical of Western colonial society’s desire for knowledge. Walton is egotistical and dislikeable, as is Victor, and both of their journeys to gain knowledge are dangerous and destructive.
Q: In your story, you speak of a “decolonial love”. Could you tell us a bit more about why that spoke to you so strongly? Connectedly, the notion of “found family” seems to shape a lot of the ideas in this story. What inspired you to explore Victor’s creation accessing a familial structure?
Caranto Morford: Colonialism has dictated that the most significant love, the one that we should privilege above all others, is monogamous romantic-sexual love. Colonialism has suggested that, to be successful, one must get married and have a nuclear family — that that is something everyone should desire. As a person on the ace spectrum, I want to challenge those ideas. I want to emphasize how significant, intimate, and beautiful friendships and the love of and for friends can be and is. I want to celebrate platonic love and the joys of platonic love.
Q: Your story discusses many different academic texts, particularly those with an activist quality. What evoked this desire to share these texts with Victor’s creation? Was this a way of educating Mary Shelley’s character about ways of occupying a decolonial world?
Caranto Morford: Absolutely. These books have been such a gift and privilege for me to read; they are so full of wisdom, so full of decolonial teachings, written by such amazing activists, and they are not read nor celebrated enough in mainstream spaces. Sharing these texts with Wollstonecraft — and Wollstonecraft’s reciprocal act of sharing these texts with readers — was also a way of speaking back to the Creature’s education in the Shelley text, wherein they read texts that have been labelled “canonical” and yet these texts often perpetuate toxic colonial ideas. I want to challenge what we consider to be “the literary canon,” and the kinds of teachings and authors that get privileged through the mainstream “canon”.
Q: Where can readers find out more about your work and see what you are up to?
Caranto Morford:You can follow me on Twitter: @ashleycmorford