Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

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The Proust Questionnaire, with Pamela Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai is launching her new collection of poetry, Subversive Sonnets (TSAR Publications), in Toronto on Thursday, September 20th at Beit Zatoun. To anticipate the new release, she takes on the Proust Questionnaire! In her answers, Pamela tells us the similarity between her principal fault and her chief characteristic, the admirable qualities of both men and women, grabs some of her favourite poets and prose writers to share, and more! For more info on the book launch, visit Open Book: Toronto's Events Page.

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.


What is your dream of happiness?
A peaceful earth where everyone has enough to eat, clean running water, adequate health care, decent shelter, lives in a caring community, sings and story-tells and takes care of the planet and its animal, mineral and vegetable inhabitants.

What is your idea of misery?
Look around you.

Where would you like to live?
I’m happy where I am, but were I to make a second choice, I’d like to live in a simple, portable structure, like a houseboat, or a Bedouin beit, perhaps, so I could move around and see the world, painting pictures, collecting songs and stories and singing and reciting my own.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Decency, honesty, generosity, empathy, commitment, a sense of play, a sense of humour, a closed mouth, the ability to cook.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Decency, honesty, generosity, empathy, commitment, a sense of play, a sense of humour, a closed mouth.

What is your chief characteristic?
I’m obsessive compulsive.

What is your principal fault?
I’m obsessive compulsive.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Wasting time!

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
I’ll indulge almost anything that doesn’t involve harming other people, especially children.

What do you value most about your friends?
That they stay my friends.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Any behaviour that demeans another person – shuts them down, shuts them off, shuts them out.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I belittle my own worth.

What is your favourite virtue?
Deep, abiding care for others.

What is your favourite occupation?

What would you like to be?
A good person. If you mean an occupation (other than writing), an architect.

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite flower?
Blooms of the cassia fistula (golden shower) tree.

What is your favourite bird?

What historical figure do you admire the most?

What character in history do you most dislike?
It’s so hard to choose! There are so many Medicis, Machiavellis, Herods, Hitlers, Jack the Rippers, Judases…

Who are your favourite prose authors?
I’ll just grab a few: my husband, Jane Austen, Erna Brodber, Octavia Butler, Anita Desai, Charles Dickens, Thomas Glave, Nalo Hopkinson, P.D. James, Thomas King, Ursula Le Guin, Earl Lovelace, David Macfarlane, Rachel Manley, Rohinton Mistry, Walter Mosely, Jean Rhys, Samuel Selvon, Olive Senior, Georges Simenon, James Thurber, Mark Twain…

Who are your favourite poets?
I’ll just grab some of them too: William Blake, Dionne Brand, Kamau Brathwaite, Charles Causley, Kwame Dawes, Emily Dickinson, Lorna Goodison, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Edward Lear, the Metaphysicals, Ogden Nash, Jack Prelutsky, the Romantics, Olive Senior, Shakespeare, Shel Silverstein, Wallace Stevens, Edward Thomas, Derek Walcott, William Butler Yeats…

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Some of a large and motley crew: Rhys’s Antoinette Cosway, Selvon’s Battersby and Moses Aloetta, Lovelace’s Aldrick Prospect, Coetzee's Magistrate, Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, Lawrence Hill’s Aminata Diallo, Twain’s Huck Finn and Jim, Hopkinson’s Tan Tan Habib, A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Some of the people I most admire are Mahatma Gandhi, Marcus Garvey, Mother Theresa, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Óscar Romero, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Who is your favourite painter?
How does one choose? Michelangelo, Manet, Monet, Modigliani, Morrisseau, Renoir, Rousseau, Picasso, Rivera, Degas, Klimt, Kahlo, Kapo, O’Keefe, Van Gogh, Osmond Watson…

Who is your favourite musician?
The Honourable Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley.

What is your favourite food?
Rice and gungo peas, curry goat, ox-tail, mackerel run-down, sweet potato fries.

What is your favourite drink?
Jamaican rum punch, Trinidadian ponche de crème, my li chee punch.

What are your favourite names?
David, Daniel, Gabriel(le), Nandi, Martin, Pierre, Rachel, Zoey.

What is it you most dislike?
Contempt for other people, which usually goes along with a sense of entitlement.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I’d like to have a good ear and a great voice.

How do you want to die?
My dad slipped off in his sleep – early in the morning when they say most people die. I think it’s a good way to go.

What is your current state of mind?
All over the place.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Being married to the same person for 46 years and raising our three children.

What is your motto?
“Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. Take care of the earth!” The first part is from the Old Testament Book of Micah, chapter 6, verse eight.


Pamela Mordecai writes poetry, fiction and plays. Her four previous collections of poetry are Journey Poem; de man: a performance poem; Certifiable and The True Blue of Islands. Her first collection of short fiction, Pink Icing and other stories, appeared in 2006. Her writing for children is widely collected and well known internationally. El Numero Uno, a play for young people, had its world premiere at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in Toronto in 2010. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario.

For more information about Subversive Sonnets please visit the TSAR Publications website.

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

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.


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