Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Aga Maksimowska

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Aga Maksimowska

Aga Maksimowska's debut novel is Giant (Pedlar Press). Published just a few weeks ago and already receiving enthusiastic acclaim, Giant tells the story of young Polish immigrant Gosia, whose life and identity are thrown into turmoil upon her arrival in Canada.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Aga tells Open Book about her extravagant eyes, honest people and the great outdoors.

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.

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What is your dream of happiness?
When I was a little kid, I had a step-father who was an avid outdoorsman. He took us fishing, camping and mushroom picking. When I was older, I had another step-father who was an avid hiker, and he further instilled in me, my brother and my sister the love of the outdoors. I love being outside, even if it’s just a walk around the block or a bike ride in Toronto’s incredible ravine system. Hence always being able to be outdoors, moving through nature and taking in the sunshine is my idea of happiness.

What is your idea of misery?
Predictably, being indoors, stationary and stagnant is my idea of misery.

Where would you like to live?
Honestly, if my family and friends were there, then somewhere by the ocean, in Australia, preferably not too far from Melbourne. Otherwise, right here, in Toronto.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Humility, humour, ease.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Same as above.

What is your chief characteristic?
Determination.

What is your principal fault?
Impatience.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My eyes. Now that I have a child and a mortgage, the sum of money I spent on laser eye surgery several years ago seems exorbitant, yet, upon reflection, wholly worth it. I wore glasses from age nine and contacts at 16 (Remember those God-awful hard lenses? Those!) so now that I no longer have to poke myself in the eyes twice daily, I’m in heaven.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Arrogance, because I quietly admire it even though I know it’s a fault. A confident person with a lot of chutzpah is much more attractive to me than someone tentative, apologetic and insecure. But then again, I said I admire humility in people, right? To quote Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

What do you value most about your friends?
I have the most wonderful friends: loyal, generous, kind, competent and resourceful, and most of all, funny as hell.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Ignorance, insincerity, passive aggressiveness.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I can be terribly hot headed, and have a tendancy to make hasty judgments. As soon as I judge something or someone I wish I could just relax, think for a minute longer, and remain neutral.

What is your favourite virtue?
Honesty. Truly honest — tactfully honest — people are a rarity.

What is your favourite occupation?
Writer, albeit as an occupation in this day and age it’s like the unicorn, so I’m going to say a high school teacher who writes.

What would you like to be?
Lucky and happy for the rest of my life.

What is your favourite colour?
All shades of green, brown, blue, grey… outside, nature colours.

What is your favourite bird?
I find the sound of pigeons and seagulls soothing (Bert and I would get along).

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Arundhati Roy, James Baldwin, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jamaica Kincaid, Camilla Gibb, Lawrence Hill, Heather O’Neill, Helen Humphreys.

Who are your favourite poets?
William Shakespeare, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Margaret Atwood.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Aminata Diallo, Annie John, Calliope Stephanides.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mom, my grandmother, every little kid who endures and overcomes bullying.

Who is your favourite painter?
Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Who is your favourite musician?
Honestly, I am the least musical person you will ever meet. Completely tone deaf and ignorant of music trivia. I play Billie Holiday and Bud Powell for my baby daughter all the time. We love them. Their albums are so soothing and lovely. I also love The Roots and Thievery Corporation.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Since I am completely amusical (my attempts at playing cello and viola in middle school don’t count), I have always wanted to be able to sing. I envy people with beautiful voices. Singing seems like the most amazing, freeing talent.

How do you want to die?
Currently, I don’t want to die. Death terrifies me. I’m like a little kid when it comes to death: when the topic comes up, I close my eyes, plug my ears and make loud incoherent noises. So, NANANANNANAAA! But if you demand maturity, I would say in very old age, in my bed, in my home, surrounded by loved ones and the music of Billie Holiday, Bud Powell, The Roots and Thievery Corporation.

What is your current state of mind?
Overjoyed, anxious and muddled. I am terribly sleep-deprived, so much so that my blood pressure has spiked. I think that’s what happens to primary caregivers of newborns. Hopefully it goes away.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My two babies: my daughter and my novel.

What is your motto?
A conflation of ‘It is what it is’ and ‘Carpe diem.’ Don’t fight things, accept them as they are and appreciate them, good and bad. I know that sounds weird. When I experienced the Baby Blues, a friend told me to enjoy the daily, albeit brief, crying fits. I thought that was the weirdest thing. Enjoy the sadness? Enjoy crying? But you know what, it worked. Just like convincing myself that the pain of childbirth was good pain allowed me to get through it and have a really positive experience.


Aga Maksimowska emigrated from Poland to Toronto in 1988. She studied Journalism at Ryerson University and Education at the University of Toronto. In 2010, she completed a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter, where she is teaching high-school English and working on her second novel.

For more information about Giant please visit the Aga's website.

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

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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