Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Lorri Neilsen Glenn

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The Proust Questionnaire, with Lorri Neilsen Glenn

Lorri Neilsen Glenn’s most recent collection of poetry is Lost Gospels (Brick Books, 2010). An award-winning ethnographer and essayist, she is the author and editor of six books on research and literacy, a forthcoming collection of essays on loss and an anthology about mothers. Poet Laureate for Halifax from 2005-2009, Lorri teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, and has led workshops at The Great Blue Heron, Los Parronales (Chile), in most provinces of Canada, and in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. She has been involved in the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia mentorship and writers in the schools programs.

Lorri Neilsen Glenn will be reading from Lost Gospels at locations in Southern Ontario throughout the week. Visit our Events page for details on her Toronto reading (Sept. 28), her London reading (Sept. 29), her Ancaster reading (Sept. 30) and her Hamilton reading (Sept 30).

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Lorri speaks of her greatest extravagance, her favourite artists, her favourite bird and more.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.


What is your dream of happiness?
A quiet morning by the ocean or on the prairie, with time for writing.

What is your idea of misery?
Having no food or shelter or resources. Trying to survive in Pakistan during this flood, for example. Or Haiti. Or on the streets of a large city, anonymous. Other than that, faculty meetings full of pettifoggery.

Where would you like to live?
Anywhere, for a little while, to immerse myself in a different landscape or culture. I love Nova Scotia and the prairies. I could imagine having lived my life in Australia.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Wit, confidence, compassion. A capacity to recognize beauty. Emotional bravery, openness, curiosity. Calm.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
The same qualities as I admire in a man.

What is your chief characteristic?

What is your principal fault?
Impatience. And sometimes tenacity, too, I guess.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Books. Travel. And sometimes, when I save by buying clothes from Frenchy’s or the thrift store, I splurge on a great pair of boots.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
I think most faults, including my own, arise out of fear or insecurity and so I try to remember that.

What do you value most about your friends?
That, regardless of the kind of day I’m having, I come away from being with them (or corresponding with them) feeling enriched. I value kindness, an ear. Laughter. Candour. Trust. Great conversation. I am blessed with good friends.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
I try to stay away from people whose characteristics don’t bring out the best in me—
bullies and blowhards, in particular.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
My impatience.

What is your favourite virtue?
These days, kindness. Gratitude is right up there, too.

What is your favourite occupation?
For me, or others? I’m fortunate, because I’m doing mine—writing. I also love teaching, and I do that too.

What would you like to be?
Perfectly healthy for another forty years.

What is your favourite colour?
Red. A deep red.

What is your favourite flower?
Tiger lily, also known as the prairie lily.

What is your favourite bird?
The crow. The humorist Ian Frazier says the crows’ slogan should be “We want to be your only bird.”

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Any woman who has had to suffer as a result of her status in her culture. My own mother. My Métis great-grandmother.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Anyone who has abused power and influence, who has used them to destroy or intimidate.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Non-fiction—essayists and memoirists, for the most part; sometimes it’s the author; other times, it’s the book. Michael Herr. The early Joan Didion. Annie Dillard. Barry Lopez. Isabel Huggan. Stan Dragland, Tim Lilburn. Jean McKay. Richard Selzer. Sherman Alexi. Ken McGoogan. Daphne Marlatt. Trevor Herriott. Lucy Grealy, Myrna Kostash, Don McKay and more. I’ve been reading the memoirs of Judy Fong Bates and Denise Chong, which I’m truly enjoying. Fiction? That’s a long list, too.

Who are your favourite poets?
I can’t do this—there are too many. There are very few contemporary Canadian poets whose work I don’t admire for some reason or another—it’s a pretty inspiring community. Otherwise, Bronwen Wallace, Lucille Clifton, Wislawa Szymborska, Charles Wright, Tony Hoagland, Jane Hirshfield, Colleen Thibaudeau, Gwendolyn MacEwan, Elizabeth Bishop, C.K. Williams. I’m just warming up here.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Hagar Shipley. Most recently, George Washington Crosby.

Who are your heroes in real life?
People with conviction who stand up for themselves and others and do so quietly and without fanfare.

Who is your favourite painter?
Georgia O’Keeffe.

Who is your favourite musician?
Aah—just one? My friend Rose Vaughan. I love everything from country to folk to classical to reggae to hard rock to dirt music to opera to R & B, to the blues and more. Robert Johnson, Billie Holliday. Doc Boggs. Bill Frisell. My brother Brian. Alison Krauss. The McGarrigles, always; Loreena McKennitt, sometimes. Serena Ryder. Little Miss Higgins. Fred Eaglesmith. Dr. John. John Prine. Arcade Fire. Great Lake Swimmers. K.D. Lang. Tom Waits singing Ol’ 55. Hundreds and hundreds more.

What is your favourite food?
Many favourites. How about a meal of a good savoury fish stew—like seafood creole or bouillabaisse—along with sweet home-grown tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil?

What is your favourite drink?

What are your favourite names?
The names of my friends and family.

What is it you most dislike?
Our human capacity for injustice and cruelty.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Perfect pitch. I’m a very enthusiastic off-key singer.

How do you want to die?
In my sleep, after a long, full day with family and friends. Decades from now.

What is your current state of mind?

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Learning how to pay attention. Learning how to learn, staying curious, helping others do the same. I’m enormously proud of my sons, but they accomplished themselves.

What is your motto?
Some days—“The best way out is through.” Other days—“Luck wears overalls.”


For more information about Lost Gospels, please visit the Brick Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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