Marilynne Robinson

m_robinson_krwinter300Interviewed by Josiah Neufeld

In 1980 Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, astonished the American literary world with its beautifully wrought prose, eccentric characters, and elemental images. The novel has come to be regarded as a classic in American literature. Although she continued to write non-fiction after Housekeeping, Robinson didn’t publish another novel for more than twenty years. Her second novel, Gilead, written as a series of  meditative letters from a minister to his son, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Robinson has since written two more novels centred around characters first introduced in Gilead. Home was published in 2008, and LILA will be in bookstores later this year.

Robinson teaches writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop and has mentored writers such as Paul Harding (also a Pulitzer winner) and Justin Torres. U.S. president Barack Obama counts Gilead among his favourite novels. In 2013 he honoured Robinson with the National Humanities Medal.

Robinson is also known for non-fiction. She writes with elegance and authority about subjects such as nuclear pollution, theology, the history of western thought, and the roots of American liberalism. She has published three books of essays and Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution, an excoriation of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in England.

I fell in love with Robinson’s contemplative prose several years ago while reading Gilead on a road trip across the American Midwest. Since then I’ve read everything of hers I can lay hands on. I was surprised and delighted when she agreed to answer the following questions by email.

How did you come to start writing?

I always liked books, and started writing poems when I was very young. Writing always seemed like something I would do, even when I was not doing it.

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Chris Frey

Chris-Frey-Bio-Pic-wideInterviewed by Roquela Fernandez

Chris Frey is the Editor-in-Chief of Hazlitt, an online magazine based in Toronto. He is also the director of digital publishing at Penguin Random House of Canada.

Once upon a time in Georgetown, Guyana, Frey was mugged, sort of. After a fairly lengthy tussle with his two potential muggers, Frey did what any rational person would do in this situation: dropped to his knees and feigned an asthma attack. Frey’s subsequent article Where Do You Think YOU’RE Going? (published at unlimited) won Gold at the 27th Annual Western Magazine Awards.

Frey has won many other awards besides, including five National Magazine Awards. One of which was for producing an online video, Pagelicker 01: Irvine Welsh.

Frey has contributed to the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, Azure, Maisonneuve, CBC Radio, and Canadian Geographic. He was the founding editor of the website Toronto Standard and the magazine Outpost, and is the Toronto correspondent for Monocle magazine. His forthcoming book Broken Atlas: The Secret Life of Globalization is a character-driven, multinational investigation into what it means to be modern in the twenty-first century.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew-up?

I didn’t have a clue. I was a bizarre, lonely child—for a long while I wanted to get into politics. I adored Pierre Trudeau. Basically I wanted to be an equally suave, Anglo Trudeau. Or Bobby Orr.

[Note: It’s difficult to imagine Frey as a bizarre or lonely even as a child. He looks like a way cooler, less uptight Clark Kent – more stripes, chunkier glasses. I bet he gets invited to a lot of parties, but then again maybe even Superman had some lost years.]

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M.A.C. Farrant

mac-farrantInterviewed by Michelle Kelm

M.A.C. Farrant is an award-winning Canadian author of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. She is a regular book reviewer for the Globe & Mail and the Vancouver Sun and has taught writing at the University of Victoria, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and MacQuarrie University in Australia where she was Writer-in-Residence.

Farrant has been nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, The Van City Book Prize, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the National Magazine Awards, and the Gemini Awards for the Bravo short film adaptation of her story, Rob’s Guns & Ammo. Her novel, The Strange Truth About Us was a Globe & Mail Best Book for 2012. Her latest stage play is My Turquoise Years.

I have admired Farrant’s intelligent and bizarre humour for years and was delighted when she agreed to speak to me by email.

It’s clear from My Turquoise Years that your upbringing was a bit unusual. Can you describe your childhood?

My childhood was highly unusual for the times – Post-war, fifties and early sixties – when the nuclear family represented something like 92% of all Canadian families.  So to have a willingly absent mother, a visiting father from Vancouver, and to be raised by my father’s sister, her husband, and the rest of the extended family, was an anomaly, to say the least.  Feelings of being different arose, of course, but, actually, I had a great childhood filled with inventiveness, creativity, and the freedom to be who I was.  The family was very tight-knit and they pretty much thought I was wonderful even though I was a pain in the ass a lot of the time.

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Charles Demers

CharlieDemersby Rob Peters

Born and raised in Vancouver, Charles Demers has published two books: The Prescription Errors, a novel, and Vancouver Special, a collection of essays, which was shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. He regularly performs comedy at live venues across Canada and on CBC Radio One, where he has been described as “Truly one of the smartest comics out there.” He often appears on The Debaters and This is That. He’s written extensively for television, radio, stage, and the web, and he works as an adjunct professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia.

You’re often introduced as a writer, comedian, and political activist, usually in that order. Which of those labels do you most strongly identify with?

The cop-out-but-sort-of-true answer is: it depends on the situation. They’re overlapping categories to a certain extent, and I think I’m happiest, or most satisfied, when I get to engage all of them at once. One of the greatest moments of my professional life in the past several years was at a CBC Debaters taping in Saskatoon, where I was arguing for  Tommy Douglas. It scratched a lot of itches at once: I got to write something that I felt was smart and funny, I got to perform it for a super hot crowd, and I got to slather the whole thing in socialism. A while back we did a taping in Kelowna, and I argued that it was time to give Karl Marx another look, and I won the debate; normally we don’t care who wins or loses, it’s like wrestling, but to win for Karl Marx in the middle of one of the most conservative places in Canada, and to have made the audience laugh, felt very nice.

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Candace Savage

Candace SavageInterview by Sierra Skye Gemma

Candace Savage is the author of more than two dozen books on an impressive breadth of subjects—from in-depth books on natural history such as Prairie: A Natural History, Aurora: The Mysterious Northern Lights and Wild Mammals of Western Canada, to literature for children. A distinctive voice of western Canada in conversation with the world, she has earned an international reputation that is evidenced by her many awards and honours including the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction; induction to the Honour Roll of the Rachel Carson Institute at the Chatham College of Pittsburgh in recognition of her lifetime contribution to environmental awareness; induction to the Royal Society of Canada; an Honour Book Award in recognition of outstanding achievement in Children’s Literature; two Saskatchewan Book Awards; an Independent Publishers Award; and many others.

I met Candace when she gave an intimate reading of her latest book, A Geography of Blood, at the University of British Columbia. As a nonfiction writer, I was inspired by Savage’s lyrical presentation of a nonfiction topic that so easily could’ve been delivered dry and boring by less talented hands. After the talk, I asked Savage if I could interview her.

Your latest book, A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape, won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Can you tell me how that felt? Were you surprised? What has winning the prize, and the recognition that comes with it, meant for you?

I was astonished. Until the call came to say the book had been shortlisted, I’d never even heard of the award—this is just its second year—and even after I’d won, it took me a while to understand what a big deal it was.  The richest literary award in the country:  really? for me? Obviously, you have to take all awards with a huge grain of salt—how could one book be the “best” in any absolute sense?—so win or lose, it’s all a bit silly.  But winning feels very good, and the recognition has definitely increased the demand for my services. Some wit once observed that money is the sincerest form of compliment, and I feel suitably affirmed. [Read more…]