Inspired by a productive day of program meetings and camaraderie up in Edmonton this month, I decided to ask my WGA colleagues three questions about themselves: what books have made a profound impact on them (and why), the best creative (or life) advice they’ve ever received, and third—the #1 destination they would love to visit (and why). Here goes, I hope you enjoy getting to know our intrepid gang a little better!
Book: “White Teeth by Zadie Smith really enlarged my idea of what a novel can do. It’s social commentary, and it’s also hilarious, tender, and unbelievably smart.”
Best Advice: “My dad told me to take some courses at university that might not be my first choice or my primary area of interest. I got a very average mark in an astronomy class and loved every lecture. I try to keep that in mind now as a parent, too: I tell my kids to try something new. Go in a direction that’s not necessarily easy for you.”
#1 Place to Visit: “I would love to travel with my family to Ireland. I think we are ready for a vacation with lots of walking and sightseeing, and Ireland seems to have both rural and urban beauty.”
Books: “I’m not sure I can answer the ‘why’ part of this question—maybe because a certain book was recently read or at a particular time, but five books come to mind: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bedlam by Greg Hollingshead, Clara Callan by Richard Wright, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and L’Assommoir by Emile Zola. I have deliberately not mentioned any (current) Alberta authors—there are far too many whose words play in me head.”
Best Advice: “I think what has stayed with me in rather grander terms than mine but aligned are Anais Nin’s words: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
#1 Place to Visit: “Prague or Jordan, for reasons of history and by recommendation.”
Books: “I’ve started an answer to this question three times, and each time I think of more books to add! There have been many, but three that come to mind right off are Autobiography of Red, The Color Purple, and another I don’t actually know the title of, strangely. It was a book of photos from the Civil Rights Movement and the texts of the speeches that Dr. Martin Luther King gave; I found it in my high school library. This was back before the Internet had taken off, so those texts were harder to come by. But, even on the page, I couldn’t help but be profoundly affected by the power of those speeches. The reason I mention Autobiography of Red is that it redefined poetry for me by completely broadening its definition. And the character development in Color Purple is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s one of the few books I go back to and re-read from time to time.”
Best Advice: “I like this question… The best life/creative advice I ever received came from my brother. I was talking with him as I was on my way out the door from a family event. I had to leave the event early because I was meeting with an editor the next morning to go over a submission manuscript for a school application. It was a program I really wanted to get into and I was telling him how nervous I was about both the program and the submission portfolio. My brother said, “I don’t know how much advice I can offer, except: Give ’em hell and don’t look back.” He was right. And that sentiment became a kind of mantra to help get me through school—and a number of challenges that have come up since.”
#1 Place to Visit: “I don’t think I could pick a #1 place to visit (there are so many!), but the next place I’d like to go is Peru to hike the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu. I’ve seen photos of it, but so much cannot captured by a photo—the remoteness of a location, the altitude, the way a place sounds (or its silence), the richness and beauty of the culture, the people, and their history. It’s amazing to think that so many centuries ago, a group of people made the decision to build a city in the clouds, and it’s even more incredible when you consider the degree of ingenuity and engineering that went into that city’s construction. It’s a complete marvel even by today’s standards.”
Books: “The first book that moved me deeply was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. A female protagonist surviving against many odds appealed to (and shaped) the young girl that I was. The book also provided a glimpse into different cultures encountering one another (such a thing was not part of my young reality). Another book that profoundly shaped me was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I’m far from unique in that! Atticus intrigued me because he was an unusual person in his habits, and perspectives. The book articulated how complicated human relations can be, that things are not always as they appear, and that justice sometimes requires taking a risky personal stance. I was also affected by Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. The story is a retelling of the Eros and Psyche myth. It is a tragedy. I can’t really articulate the emotions I feel when reading that story. They are many. I had a run of existentialism. That is, the stories of Albert Camus and Dostoyevsky had a large hand in helping me grapple with what it meant to be a human being. It is complicated, and we are constantly called upon to make moral decisions. I believe that is still my central emotional and intellectual quest. Therefore, most recently, I am enamoured of George Saunders’ stories. He is culturally astute, extremely generous, and his stories make me want to be a better person. I impose him on my students and go on at some length about why I think he is so important for our times!”
Best Advice: “I have been blessed with enormous amounts of advice from books and people. I think I sort of collect it. It seems ridiculous to try to pick out “the best,” but I would venture the following: to listen.”
#1 Place to Visit: “My number one destination is Cuba because I saw a coffee table book of Cuban urban architecture and was very moved by bright colours amidst decaying buildings. Those images, the sea, and the warmth hold some romanticism for me.”
Book: “The Long Walk by Stephen King: I love dystopian literature and this one had a particularly odd premise: 100 teenage boys enter a contest, entirely of their own volition, where they just walk until the last one standing is declared the winner. It’s a gripping yet very sad read, because it tapped into a truth that we all know but don’t want to say out loud: No matter what happens in your life, we all end up the same in the end, and outlasting all your friends is hardly a victory. For a positive thing I took away from this book, I noticed that even in the midst of the unspeakable suffering the walkers endure, there are still enjoyable moments to be had.”
Best Advice: “If no one outside your little circle of like-minded back-patters understands your art, it’s not art. I’m not sure if this is actually the **best** advice, seeing as it came from my scientist father, but it is the most provocative.”
#1 Place to Visit: “Australia, mostly because I like the animals. As a more in-depth answer, it’s the land that broke away from the rest of the world and evolved into a strange place with unique animals that aren’t seen anywhere else on the globe. I want to explore the unique landscape (with an experienced guide who knows what they’re doing!), and hopefully see some of these weird, fascinating creatures.”
Lulu de Vliewick
Books: For a long time I read only French classics, Voltaire’s Candide really stayed with me, as did Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (so tragic), though I found Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre quite navel-gazing. I’m currently engaged in the work of Paul Auster, particularly the novella Timbuktu narrated by Mr. Bones. I plan to read Woolf’s imaginative biography Flush about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel. I did not enjoy Kafka’s Investigations of a Dog—and I despise everything written by Cesar Millan.
Best Advice: “Once on a farm there was a bird. The bird would follow a cow around, and when the cow took a dump, the bird would eat the seeds out of the poop. One day the bird got too close and the cow shit all over him. An old barn cat saw this and came over and cleaned off the bird. As soon as the bird was nice and clean the cat ate him. Not everyone that craps on you is your enemy, not everything that cleans you off is your friend.”
#1 Places to Visit: San Francisco, wine tasting in Napa, Central Park in NYC, preferably in September when the temperature is “just so.”
Samantha Warwick (Me)
Books: I love the poignant brevity of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. His writing is so vivid and fluid, and he creates compelling central conflicts. I’m just starting his latest novel, Nutshell, written from the perspective of a fetus. In recent years I loved (and savoured) Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis (for its cleverness and philosophy), The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (brilliant 1920s atmosphere, lingo, detail and emotional life of Hemingway’s first wife), and Inside by Alix Ohlin (for her lively writing style and resonant, well-drawn characters).
Best Advice: “Stop being self-conscious. Nobody is paying any attention to you. Everyone is paying more attention to themselves.” Every now and again I re-read the Desiderata, as this passage (in my experience) brings truth and solace to pretty much any situation.
Top Places to Visit: Bali, Turkey, Chile, Argentina…Oh, and one day I dream of swimming an island-to-ialsnd adventure in the British Virgin Islands…the list goes on. I can’t answer my own questions with precision!
Join us June 10 and 11 at Lister Centre, U of A campus in Edmonton for our annual writer’s conference weekend!
….Where writers from all across Alberta come together to socialize, network, learn, and celebrate writers and writing. We’ve asked over a dozen authors to share their talents and experiences in fiction, short story, poetry, and journalism through keynote speeches, author interviews, panel discussions and more. On Saturday night we’ll take it up a notch with our Literary Awards Gala. Some of our presenters this year include: Yasuko Thanh, Diana Davidson, Mike Morrison, Joan Crate, Rea Tarvydas, Deborah Willis, Richard Van Camp, Susan Ouriou, Jaspreet Singh, Todd Babiak, Alma Mancilla, Kate Boorman, Karen Bass, Ahmed “Knowmadic,” Paula Simons and Glenn Dixon. We look forward to a very special and enlightening few days, and we hope to you will join us!