Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Antonio D’Alfonso

Share |
Ten Questions with Antonio D’Alfonso

Guernica Editions publisher and award-winning author Antonio D'Alfonso talks to Open Book about reading, writing and translating.

OBT:

Tell us about your latest book.

AD'A:

The latest book? There are a number of them. Gambling with Failure (essays, 2005); Un homme de trop (poetry, Noroît, 2005); One Friday in August (novel, 2005); The Blueness of Light (by Louise Dupré, translator, 2005); Etnilisuse kaitseks, translated in Estonian by Reet Sool, 2006. (essays); The World Forgotten (by Paul Bélanger, translator, 2005); L’aimé (novel, 2007); The Last Woman (Claudine Bertrand, translator, 2008); In corsivo italico, translated by Silvana Mangione, 2009; L’absence de point d’arrivée (essays, forthcoming); Ce qu’on m’a volé (essays-interviews, forthcoming).

Books of essays in English, in French, in Estonian, in Italian; two forthcoming in French, two novels (one in English which won the Trillium Award, another in French which won the Christine Dumitriu Van Saanen Award); and translations of Québécois poets.

For some reason I am writing a lot these days, as if, to quote René Char, I were late on my own life. Most probably this is due to fact that over thirty writers - close acquaintances I loved dearly - passed away since 2005. Something about these deaths disturbs me profoundly. I would like to define this thing as a symbolic event but it is not symbolic at all. It is as though the symbolic is turned inside out and what is revealed needs to be defined for the first time. The writing, the thinking process surrounding the writing, enables me to sort out definitions for what death has taken from me.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

AD'A:

Writing is partially a social and personal activity. My last novel, L’Aimé (The Man Who Is Loved), completed a trilogy about Fabrizio Notte who has been following me everywhere since 1974. He has finally escaped. I am very honored to have lived with him for three decades. What awaits me will no longer be these stories of a failed artist.

As I write these sentences it occurs to me that the three novels on Fabrizio were about personal, inter-personal and professional failure. This concept of failure I have elaborated in my book of essays, Gambling with Failure. Failure more than success strikes my imagination.

This idea of the anti-success arose out of essays I had published in the 1980s and 1990s on ethnicity. The two books of essays (the one in Estonian and the other in Italian) are the by-products of these essays on ethnicity.

After having delved in ethnicity and failure, I now concentrate my energy on translations. I dedicate much of my recent poetic activity to the translating of poets from Quebec and Italy. Somehow I feel a strong urge to jump out of my body and mind and travel about with other writers.

Translating is the most beautiful act of love a writer can offer another writer. It is a highly fruitful experience, even though the results, on the commercial and cultural levels, are not what one imagines. Transmitting of culture is not as easy as a giro. Yet I know that this act of sharing is ultimately what writing is all about. One could say that my compulsion to write and publish (for this is a different aspect of writing) has been about sharing ideas, images, sounds, silences.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

AD'A:

A notebook, a fountain pen or a pencil. Whenever I can scribble down a thought or a verse. I should be jotting down much more of the flashes that strike my imagination than I do, but I am not very vigilant about writing. One day I fear I will pay a dear price for not catching these images when they appear. Still, I also believe that if these moments of enlightenment possess any worth they will re-appear when they are needed.

Writing for me has always been linked to a commission. I rarely write just for the need to write. I write when someone asks me to write, and when this occurs I pull out my notebooks and start editing the fragments I find in my notebooks and shape them into a philosophical entity.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

AD'A:

I published my first English texts in literary magazines in the early 1970s. My first poetry book I published in French (which I did not know very well) in 1973. My first literary essay was written in Italian (which I did not know well) and published in a newspaper in 1977.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

AD'A:

Living in Toronto. Deciding to leave Toronto.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

AD'A:

For English Canada: Elisabeth Smart’s Grand Central Station; Leonard Cohen’s The Energy of Slaves; Marshall McLuhan’s Through the Vanishing Point.

For Quebec: Patrick Straram’s Questionnement socracritique; Philippe Haeck’s La parole verte; Nicole Brossard’s Amantes.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

AD'A:

I am reading a number of books: Michel Marie’s Nouvelle Vague; Hannah Arendt’s La crise de la culture; Roger des Roches’ dixhuitjuilletdeuxmillequatre (which I want to translate); and Simone de Beauvoir’s La cérémonie des adieux.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

AD'A:

Both Leonard Cohen and Gwendolyn MacEwen told me the same thing: you chose the most difficult kind of writing, it won’t be easy for you. They were right.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

AD'A:

Never publish by yourself. Make sure you read the books that move around you and make friends with the writers you respect.

OBT:

What is your next project?

AD'A:

There are a number of projects: a translation of a selection of Roger des Roches’ poetry; a translation of a selection of José Acquelin’s poetry; a novel on... I am not going to say; a collection of poetry in French; a book of essays in French; and my PhD (I have decided to do a PhD at 55) thesis on five Italic films. Another feature film. And something to do with my photographs.




Antonio D'Alfonso has written, edited and translated numerous books. He received the 2004 Trillium Award for his book Un vendredi du mois d’août and the 2008 Christine Dumitriu Van Saanen Award for L'aimé. In 1978, he founded Guernica Editions, and 1986, along with three other writers, he founded the Association of Italian-Canadian writers. His website is www.antoniodalfonso.com.


Buy his books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad