Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Naomi Guttman

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Naomi Guttman

Dionysus was the Greek god of (amongst other things) wine and theatre, while his bride Ariadne was in some legends credited with helping Theseus through the Minotaur's labyrinth. The mythical couple is a fascinating one, but in Naomi Guttman's novella-in-verse, The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera (Brick Books) the lovers become even more fascinating when they are transported to late twentieth century Montreal. Naomi creates a narrative around "Donny and Ari" as their divine marriage hits hard times and as Montreal struggles with threats cultural, environmental and otherwise. A clever and passionate lyrical experiment, The Banquet of Donny & Ari tackles questions of the heart that transcend time and myth.

Today Naomi appears on Open Book taking the Proust Questionnaire, where she tells us about the beauty of red in several forms, her favourite character from Anna Karenina and a motto that wouldn't be out of place in Dionysus' Greece.

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?

Mornings of solitude for reading and writing. Afternoons of a garden, a lake, sunshine. Evenings of delicious food and good conversation. Nights with my beloved.

What is your idea of misery?

Poverty.

Where would you like to live?

In a city with museums, theatre, opera, music, poetry and the time and money to enjoy them all.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Generosity, integrity, compassion, a sense of humour, and well-turned ankles.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Generosity, integrity, compassion, a sense of humour, and good taste in jewelry.

What is your chief characteristic?

I’m tall, but not very tall.

What is your principal fault?

Judging others. Though I have to admit, I’ve got good instincts.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Soaking in a hot bath with a good book over many hours, replenishing the hot water with a steady slow stream.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Vanity and extravagance.

What do you value most about your friends?

Loyalty, listening skills, good story-telling.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Selfishness and greed.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Second-guessing my own decisions.

What is your favourite virtue?

Kindness.

What is your favourite occupation?

Reading.

What would you like to be?

A book artist.

What is your favourite colour?

Vermillion. Red at its best.

What is your favourite flower?

Poppies (red again), beautiful and ephemeral. Hyacinths and primroses because of the way they shine, low in the soil in spring.

What is your favourite bird?

The cardinal. So flashy, and I can recognize its call.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

Margaret Sanger.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Stalin, Hitler and Mao. And that’s just the twentieth century.

Who are [some of] your favourite prose authors?

Munro, Tolstoy, Chekhov, David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, MFK Fisher, Helen Humphreys.

Who are [some of] your favourite poets?

Hopkins, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, W.S. Merwin, Harryette Mullen, D.A. Powell.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

I don’t know if he’s a “hero” because he’s just a human, struggling, but I have always loved Levin, in Anna Karenina.

Who are your heroes in real life?

People all over the world who put their lives at risk in the struggle for human rights and social justice.

Who is your favourite painter?

Too many. I have a thing for a certain Marsden Hartley in my local museum, but I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite painter.

Who is your favourite musician?

Billie Holiday.

What is your favourite food?

Lobster by the sea.

What is your favourite drink?

Water.

What are your favourite names?

Habakuk and Elvis.

What is it you most dislike?

Deciding what to throw away and what to keep.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

The ability to draw anything.

How do you want to die?

Painlessly.

What is your current state of mind?

Grateful. I’ve been very lucky, and I try to remember that every day.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Living happily with the same person for over 30 years.

What is your motto?

Make art, not war.


Naomi Guttman grew up in Montreal, where she attended Concordia University. Her book Reasons for Winter won the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and was short listed for The League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, the Artist's Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and has been a resident at Yaddo and the Chateau de Lavigny. Wet Apples, White Blood, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, was co-winner of the Adirondack Center for Writers’ Best Book of Poems for 2007. Guttman teaches English and creative writing at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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