Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Cristina Henríquez

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Cristina Henríquez

Cristina Henríquez's acclaimed fiction has appeared in the most prestigious literary journals in America, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Ploughshares.

Her third and newest book, The Book of Unknown Americans (Random House Canada), tells a story of young love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl. The two exist in a world of violence and disconnection, a cement block apartment complex where the longing to belong creates both opportunity and tragedy.

In celebration of her new book, Cristina speaks with Open Book as part of our Proust Questionnaire series, where readers have the chance to get to know the writers behind the books.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Cristina tells Open Book about her favourite authors, the necessity of bread and cheese and a collection of excellent mottos.

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?
Sleeping in, reading all morning in bed, taking a walk in the sunshine, having a cocktail with lunch.

What is your idea of misery?
Losing someone I love.

Where would you like to live?
Maybe Seattle. Maybe Vancouver. I visited once and adored it.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Intelligence and vulnerability.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Intelligence and invulnerability.

What is your chief characteristic?
Tenacity.

What is your principal fault?
Worrying too much.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I’m not prone to extravagance.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Absentmidedness.

What do you value most about your friends?
Loyalty.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Laziness.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I can be a bit of a pessimist.

What is your favourite virtue?
Honesty.

What is your favourite occupation?
I admire anyone who creates for a living.

What would you like to be?
Exactly what I am.

What is your favourite colour?
Right now, yellow.

What is your favourite flower?
Ranunculus.

What is your favourite bird?
Do I have a favourite bird? Perhaps a sparrow.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Joan of Arc.

What character in history do you most dislike?
The word character is throwing me off. A real person? Not fictional? There are so many, but here’s one: Idi Amin.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, Junot Diaz, Elizabeth McCracken, Marilynne Robinson. I would read anything they wrote.

Who are your favourite poets?
Marvin Bell is my #1.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents and my kids.

Who is your favourite painter?
Ellsworth Kelly.

Who is your favourite musician?
The Beatles.

What is your favourite food?
Cheese. Give me bread and cheese and I’m happy.

What is your favourite drink?
A margarita on the rocks.

What are your favourite names?
I’ve always liked the name Sarah.

What is it you most dislike?
People who are motivated purely by self-interest.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I would love to be a great cook.

How do you want to die?
In my sleep, with no knowledge of what’s happening.

What is your current state of mind?
Hopeful, grateful.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Personally, the fact that my children are becoming the people they are. Professionally, this book.

What is your motto?
I don’t think I have one. There are a lot of things I think about often. Beckett’s “Fail again. Fail better.” Martha Graham saying, “No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.” Robert Frosts, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve leared about life: It goes on.” My motto, if I had one, would be some amalgamation of those ideas. Try, try again. It’s only life, after all.

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Cristina Henríquez is the author of the story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection, and the novel The World in Half. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Scholar, Glimmer Train, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI and Oxford American, as well as in various anthologies. She lives in Illinois.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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