Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Kenneth Sherman

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Ten Questions with Kenneth Sherman

Open Book talks to Kenneth Sherman about his latest book, What the Furies Bring: Writers Under Duress (The Porcupine's Quill).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, What the Furies Bring.

Kenneth Sherman:

I began What the Furies Bring after 9/11. I wanted to understand how writing could address the most extreme social and political circumstances. What help is writing to the writer? What help to the reader? My search for answers took me into the darkest periods of our recent history. Several of the authors discussed – Primo Levi, Varlam Shalamov, Czeslaw Milosz – wrote of their trials from memory. Others – Chaim Kaplan and Anne Frank – wrote day by day under conditions so excruciating it’s hard not to marvel at their ability to put pen to paper.

The book explores what writing means to those who suffer a season in hell: how does the experience affect their humanity, their imagination? Some of the pieces deal with how contemporary writers responded to 9/11. Duress, of course, takes forms other than the social and political, so in my essay “The Angel of Disease,” I attempt to understand how a writer responds to serious illness and how the writing acts homoeopathically.

OBT:

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

KS:

I don't think of a readership when I write, though I do strive for a lucid and memorable style. I believe the best writing comes from a deep and committed source within the author. I did think of a readership when I finished writing the book; I realized that my quest to answer certain troubling questions would be a help and comfort to readers. The examples I chose – Anne Frank, Primo Levi, etc – cannot help but inspire with their courage, tenacity and honesty.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

KS:

Quiet. And temperate: Not too cold, not too hot.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

KS:

It was an article in a summer camp newspaper on Barry Goldwater and the threat of nuclear war. (From an early age, it seems, my imagination tended toward the dark side.)

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

KS:

Did Prime Minister Harper eat the Eucharist or did he pocket it? What luck, to be living in a country so stable and secure that such trivialities are a concern to the populace.

OBT:

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

KS:

Northrop Frye’s The Bush Garden (for its explication of the Canadian psyche)
Adele Wiseman’s The Sacrifice (for its appreciation of the immigrant experience)
Irving Layton’s Selected Poems (for its presentation of what it means to be Canadian and anti-Canadian)

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

KS:

Indignation by Philip Roth. I thought his book Everyman was a masterpiece.

OBT:

What¹s the best advice you¹ve ever received as a writer?

KS:

It came from an interview with Isaac Bashevis Singer: “A writer’s best friend is the wastepaper basket.”

OBT:

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

KS:

Let me say that I don’t believe that getting published is the most important part of the writing experience. Let’s not forget that greats such as Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka and Constantine Cavafy did not live to see the majority of their work published. Obviously, something other than the quest for recognition was driving such authors. Yet it is true that most of us who write wish to share our work. The history of literature reassures us that good writing ultimately reaches its rightful audience.

OBT:

What is your next project?

KS:

My long poem Black River (Porcupine’s Quill, 2007) was part of a proposed trilogy and I am currently working on the second book.


Kenneth Sherman was born in Toronto in 1950. He has a BA from York University, where he studied with Eli Mandel and Irving Layton, and an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. While a student at York, Sherman co-founded and edited the literary journal Waves. From 1974—1975 he travelled extensively through Asia. He is a full-time faculty member at Sheridan College where he teaches Communications; he also teaches a course in creative writing at the University of Toronto.

In 1982, Sherman was writer-in-residence at Trent University. In 1986 he was invited by the Chinese government to lecture on contemporary Canadian literature at universities and government institutions in Beijing. In 1988, he received a Canada Council grant to travel through Poland and Russia. This experience inspired several of the essays in his book Void and Voice (1998). Sherman, author of the acclaimed Words for Elephant Man and vThe Well: New and Selected Poems, lives in Toronto with his wife, Marie, an artist.

Join Kenneth Sherman's Facebook group.
For more information about What the Furies Bring please visit The Porcupine's Quill website.
Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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