Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Questionless Books Interview: Writer, Performer, & Director of Winnipeg's Int'l Authors Festival THIN AIR, Charlene Diehl

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Charlene Diehl

In The Questionless Books Interview, I get a whole bunch of books people (from authors to editors to publishers to sales / publicity / production people, booksellers, designers, librarians, readers, etc) to "answer" a series of unspoken "questions". The results highlight a delightful mix of the opportunities and challenges facing our sector: from doom and gloom to sunshine and rainbows, and every irony in between.

Charlene Diehl is a writer, editor, performer, and the director of THIN AIR. Her memoir, Out of Grief, Singing: A Memoir of Motherhood and Loss (Signature Editions, 2010) has been warmly received by both readers and critics, and was shortlisted for the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Non-Fiction Award and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year. Charlene has published one poetry collection, lamentations, along with poems in literary journals and anthologies. She has also written a critical book on poet Fred Wah, and reviewed books and music in various Canadian journals. Arts journalism is also a passion: she co-edits dig! magazine, and writes the jazz column for The Winnipeg Review.

Charlene's Links:

Personal Site
Out of Grief, Singing
Winnipeg International Writers Festival
dig! magazine

I am... a person who is less & less certain how to self-identify. I run a writers festival, I co-edit a jazz magazine, I write a blog (when I can get to it!), I teach occasional writing courses, I write a jazz column, I parent two teens, I read from my memoir & talk about positive grief work, I write poems, I coordinate a music outreach program in an inner city school, I interview writers & other artists, I explore voice/language/performance—& when I have a minute, I wonder what the heck I’m meant to accomplish on this trek…

I am known to... direct & host a joyful literary bash every year in Winnipeg. If you haven’t been to THIN AIR, you’re missing a great party! (Want proof?

I do this in... September, all over Winnipeg & in various communities outside the city.

I do this because... I love books & I love writers, & I have this conviction that lighting a bunch of little fires amongst local readers contributes to the health & heart of our community.

I do this when I... choose my eclectic line-up of Really Great Writing each year.

The way I do this is... I read & read & read. Then I begin to imagine how various voices might click together to create new levels of context & intensity. It’s part magic & part bloody-minded effort—in many ways not so different from writing books.

At his/her core, a Writer is... someone who explores with language.

As opposed to an Author, who is... someone who makes things people will read.

A Writer is responsible for... pushing beyond the edges of what she knows.

As opposed to an Author, who is responsible for... satisfying an existing appetite, or finding ways to connect with readers & generate an appetite.

At its core, Publishing is... an almost impossible balancing act, making things that honor the writer’s impulse to explore unknown terrain but also finding or creating readers with an appetite for that exploration.

As opposed to Editing, which is... a tough-minded & sensitive commitment to creating the strongest writing from each explorer.

A Publisher should always... require the full maturity of every manuscript. It’s essential to the writer-reader contract, & without that requirement, our shelves are clogged with writing that wastes people’s time & imagination, & makes everyone feel dull & despairing.

As opposed to an Editor, who should always... speak truthfully & bravely as a committed First Reader.

A Manuscript that's ready to be read by others is... a seed, a buried treasure, a secret code, a promise which might become an actual thing.

As opposed to a Book that's ready to be read by others, which is... a seed, a buried treasure, a secret code, a promise which is looking for a reader to discover & animate it.

A Manuscript should always... be cared for in private.

As opposed to a Book, which should always... be allowed to stand on its own two feet. It can certainly benefit from every interested advocate, but it must be able to survive without them. A book has no best-before date, so immediate approval & fame (though wonderful for The Writer) are not particularly consequential to The Book.

At its core, Bookselling is... a conversation between people who are passionate about books, & keen to help each one find its readers.

As opposed to Book Marketing, which is... a mysterious, often impersonal, & absolutely necessary public effort to remind people that books are still around & perhaps even essential.

The smallest unit of narrative is... the slightest inflection, a hesitation between words, the way a sound sits in the mouth just before being sent out...

The biggest reason to anticipate the future is... because it is another incarnation of what we just don’t know, & therefore right up The Writer’s alley.

The biggest reason to be scared of the future is... because we are making such a mess of our environment, to say nothing of our social contracts, & our children are going to have to figure out how on earth to survive it all.

In the future we will all... have the same infuriating mix of kindness & meanness, curiosity & apathy, hope & despair, brilliance & stupidity, that plague us now.

At his/her core, a Reader is... someone who explores with language (see The Writer, above) by willingly entering a book & assuming another persona.

However, the ideal Reader is... someone who can assume that other persona but also maintain their own intelligence & judgment & heart, & return to their own lives with not only more information but also more wisdom.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

George Murray

George Murray’s six books of poetry include The Rush to Here and The Hunter. His most recent books, Whiteout and Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms, are published by ECW Press. He is the editor of the popular literary website

Go to George Murray’s Author Page