Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

The Proust Questionnaire, with Molly Peacock

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Molly Peacock is an acclaimed poet, essayist and creative non-fiction writer. Her latest work of non-fiction is The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life?s Work at 72 (McClelland & Stewart), at once a biography of an extraordinary 18th-century artist and a meditation on late-life creativity. Her most recent collection of poems is The Second Blush (McClelland & Stewart, 2009), love poems from a mid-life marriage. As President of the Poetry Society of America, Molly Peacock was one of the creators of New York's Poetry in Motion program; co-editing Poetry In Motion: One Hundred Poems From the Subways and Buses. She serves as a Faculty Mentor at the Spalding University Brief Residency MFA Program and is also the Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English.

The Paper Garden, recently named one of the top 20 books of 2010 and a national bestseller, was featured in Open Book's Holiday Book Guide: LIFE STORIES. Don't miss the great line-ups for ANIMALS AMONG US, IDEAS & INSPIRATION, CANADIANA, WORK & PLAY, A TASTE FOR CULTURE, CITY LIVING, THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT and STAGE, SCREEN & SONG.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Molly Peacock tells us her greatest accomplishment, her motto, her idea of misery and more.

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?
An active imagination. Health. Companionship. A nice little sex life. A container garden. A little bit of money to spend. Friends. Cats. Writing prose and poetry. A supportive publisher. Exactly what I have at this moment.

What is your idea of misery?
Supervising a high school study hall. No, on second thought: Writing letters of recommendation.

Where would you like to live?
In a cozy apartment with a garden deck overlooking trees.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Trustworthiness. The ability to pass a mirror without looking into it.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Trustworthiness. The ability to pass a mirror without looking into it.

What is your chief characteristic?

What is your principal fault?
Hysterical reactions to inconsequential situations.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My whole constellation of beauty indulgences: massages, facials, manicures, hotel room upgrades (for beauty sleep!). Pedicures in the dead of winter when no one sees my toes, hardly even me. Oh that quick flash of red before the sock goes on! Oh the elf of youth that passes in an instant through my wrinkles.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Sexual indiscretion.

What do you value most about your friends?
Their responsiveness and enthusisams. Their bright voices on the phone. Their psychological savvy. Being known, really known, for decades. Many of us have been friends for twenty or thirty years.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
All the minor manifestations of major self-absorption. Skimpy tipping. Getting off elevators first. Insisting that they be dropped off first after a long car trip. Self-righteousness. And for leaders on any level: negativity; not realizing that leadership is always successful when rhetoric goes toward the positive.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Complainer! (Make that complainer who can?t pass a mirror without looking into it.)

What is your favourite virtue?
Being a tigress for the one you love.

What is your favourite occupation?

What would you like to be?
A Writer!

What is your favourite colour?
Ah, I love all of nature?s palette.

What is your favourite flower?
Of Mrs. Delany?s paper flowers, I love the Everlasting Pea. Of huge real flowers, a big red Amaryllis. Of the tiny real flowers, blue Lobelia.

What is your favourite bird?
Well, you?d think it would be a peacock, but I love those little gray and green chatterers, monk parakeets.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Mrs. Delany, of course.

What character in history do you most dislike?
George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, Mrs. Delany?s selfish uncle.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Barbara Pym and Leo Tolstoy

Who are your favourite poets?
George Herbert and Elizabeth Bishop.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Mary Lennox, the skinny forthright girl hero of Frances Hodgson Burnett?s The Secret Garden.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My husband, Mike Groden. Also, a cat named Roma who once fended off a fierce moggy invader who tried to commandeer her driveway.

Who is your favourite painter?
Mrs. Delany. She painted the papers she cut out for her collages, making the flower collages appear as paintings.

Who is your favourite musician?
Simone Dinnerstein, who just appeared at Koerner Hall playing Bach?s Goldberg Variations.

What is your favourite food?
Mashed potatoes.

What is your favourite drink?
Hot chocolate.

What are your favourite names?
Emma and Lucy.

What is it you most dislike?
I can?t decide between grocery shopping and writing jacket blurbs. Oh, this for sure: Doing the exact same thing at the exact same time every day.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Sublime physical coordination.

How do you want to die?
At my desk, my head suddenly dropping to the keyboard.

What is your current state of mind?
I couldn?t be happier.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Not having children and not regretting it.

What is your motto?
In the attempt is the success!


For more information about The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life?s Work at 72, please visit the McClelland & Stewart 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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