Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Katherine Chiljan

In books, history, nonfiction, plays, poetry, writing on June 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Katherine Chiljan

Katherine Chiljan. Photo by Marissa Bell Toffoli (2012).

An introduction to Katherine Chiljan, author of Shakespeare Suppressed: The Uncensored Truth About Shakespeare and his Works (Faire Editions, 2011), and two anthologies: Dedication Letters to the Earl of Oxford, and Letters and Poems of Edward, Earl of Oxford. In 2012, Chiljan received the Vero Nihil Verius Award for Distinguished Scholarship from Concordia University in Oregon. Chiljan has studied the Shakespeare authorship question for over 26 years, has debated the topic with English professors at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Mechanics’ Institute in San Francisco. She has written several articles for the newsletter of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society, was its editor, and is a former Society trustee.

In Shakespeare Suppressed, Chiljan examines the identity of the great author, presenting evidence that supports a somewhat unpopular but convincing argument that he was not the man who hailed from Stratford-upon-Avon, not the man commonly credited as the writer of masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet. Freed of the Stratford Man model, problems of dating plays, piracy, and more can begin to be solved, and a new exciting figure of the author emerges. The book explores why the man from Stratford was falsely credited as Shakespeare after his death, but the implications of Chiljan’s research extend much further and offer Shakespeare fans, students, and scholars fresh perspective on the most celebrated poet and dramatist in history.

Quick Facts on Katherine Chiljan

  • Chiljan’s website
  • Home: San Francisco, California
  • Comfort food: tea and cookies
  • Top reads: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, the Seth books by Jane Roberts, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Oscar Wilde’s work
  • Favorite Shakespeare work: Hamlet

What are you working on at the moment?  

I’m working on a paper for a journal on Shakespeare’s poem in a book called Love’s Martyr printed in 1601. It was an extremely significant book for the period. I’ve been reading a lot of articles on that. I’m also working on talks about Shakespeare Suppressed.

What do you hope readers will take away from Shakespeare Suppressed?

There are a lot of questions about Shakespeare, a lot of problems and issues, that I wasn’t fully aware of until I started looking into this. So, I hope that readers will see that there is a lot more about Shakespeare, things that professors don’t usually teach their students. For instance, there’s no accepted or airtight dating for composition of any the works, not just the plays. Also, most people are unaware of how bad the early printed texts were—what they’re reading today are sanitized versions. I’m hoping people will read this and think, “Oh. Why didn’t my professors tell me about this?” 

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

Primarily the admirers and fans of Shakespeare. People who really love Shakespeare will be interested in this work. People attached to preconceived notions may have a hard time with it. 

How has controversy around the Shakespeare authorship question affected your publicity for this book?

It’s been challenging. The prevalent media opinion and professor’s opinion downgrades this topic. They don’t want to discuss it. I even had one public library turn down my free talk about the book.

Why do you think people are afraid to dismantle the myth that Shakespeare is the man from Stratford-upon-Avon?

“People like the idea that

one of the greatest geniuses of the universe

came from humble origins.”

I think that people like the idea that one of the greatest geniuses of the universe came from humble origins—that on his own, he taught himself, book-learned himself, and turned himself into a great artist. But I think for that time period it’s not realistic. It’s a nice, pretty fantasy. That’s one reason. I think another reason is that it’s so much ingrained in all the literature that we can’t get out of it. People don’t want all the literature that’s been written about Shakespeare to be wrong.

You know, if you love Shakespeare, you’re going to love him even more if you know who the real man is. My opponents say, “Well, we still have the works.” Well, we don’t have the original works. There are no handwritten Shakespeare manuscripts; we haven’t seen his personal play manuscripts. That’s like the Holy Grail of the literature world.

How long did it take to complete the book?

I thought the book would take me six months, but it ended up taking me six and a half years. I kept finding more things and building on the evidence.

Did you ever feel like you wouldn’t get through, wouldn’t finish it?

Yes. It was really a question of when I would be done, but I wouldn’t publish it until it was really done. I was not going to compromise. Passion for the topic kept me going, and I was lucky that I didn’t already have a publisher waiting for it, pushing for it sooner. The only pressure was my own.

Where and when do you prefer to write?

In the morning. I have a full-time job, and I can pretty much only write on weekends and before work.

Where would you most want to live and write?

I wrote this book from my apartment, but ideally, from my own home, with my own library and doors leading out into a garden. Somewhere quiet.

What do you listen to when you work?

Nothing.

Do you have a philosophy for how and why you write?

My writing has been based on having a cause, and passion for the topic.

How do you balance content with form?

Clarity was important to me. It’s not an easy topic and I didn’t want to confuse the reader with too much information. That’s why I included conclusions at the end of each chapter to help summarize things. Of course, this is a history book. Interpretation and reading between the lines is important.

“Interpretation and reading

between the lines is important.”

How did your background as an editor help you with this project?

When you start out being an editor, you’re reading other people’s work. You learn to see right off the bat how they’re organizing the information, what they need to add or cut. I think it helped my writing, and made me more confident from the start. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

“Revision is key. Take your time.”

Revision is key. Take your time. Work on something for a while, then put it aside. When you come back to it, you see things with a different perspective. Time is your friend.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

Keeping up with the footnotes.

Is there a question that you wish people would ask you more often about your work?

I wish they would ask me more about the Shakespeare play texts, and what terrible condition they’re in. Also, the “too early” allusions to Shakespeare in other writers’ work. I took a lot of time on that; it’s an appendix [with 93 citations!]. I have several to Romeo and Juliet as early as 1562, which was before the Stratford Man was alive.

Do you have an idea for a next book?

I’d like to research the myth that Queen Elizabeth never had children, that she was a virgin queen. I’ve come across a lot of references that imply she probably had children, and I’d like to see what I can find out. Again though, it’s another historical bias that would have to be overcome.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I like to watch Korean videos.

About Katherine Chiljan

Katherine Chiljan is an independent scholar who has studied the Shakespeare authorship question for over 26 years. She has debated the topic with English professors at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco. She has written several articles for the newsletter of the Shakespeare-Oxford Society, was its editor, and is a former Society trustee. Chiljan has given talks on the Shakespeare authorship question in numerous public libraries, clubs, universities, and bookstores throughout California. She has appeared on “Authors and Critics,” and KQED’s radio show “Forum” with Michael Krasny. A graduate of UCLA (BA in History), Chiljan has been an Oxfordian since early 1985, when Charlton Ogburn appeared in a debate with a Shakespeare professor on William F Buckley’s program, “Firing Line.” Chiljan has published two anthologies: Dedication Letters to the Earl of Oxford, and Letters and Poems of Edward, Earl of Oxford (1998).

Buy Shakespeare Suppressed, preferably at your local independent bookstore.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Katherine Chiljan.” Words With Writers (June 30, 2012), https://wordswithwriters.com/2012/06/30/katherine-chiljan.]

Shakespeare Suppressed

Shakespeare Suppressed by Katherine Chiljan (Faire Editions, 2011).

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  1. […] was simply determined to preserve the great plays before they could be lost or destroyed.  But Katherine Chiljan suggests in Shakespeare Suppressed (2011) that Pembroke may have wanted to obscure the Bard’s […]

  2. Posted on Thanks so much for this post. As a writer, my nturaal inclination is to stay in my cave and write my books. Marketing is hard for me, but your tips are things that I can do!Katherine KaneTraining The City Dog(available on Amazon)

  3. […] And while we’re on the subject of interviews, here’s one with Katherine Chiljan, the author of Shakespeare Suppressed: The Uncensored Truth About Shakespeare and his Works. Sounds fascinating to me. [Words with Writers] […]

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