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Edem Awumey takes the Laferrière Questionnaire

The author of Dirty Feet answers our very own 20 questions, courtesy of Canadian author Dany Laferrière.

About the Laferrière Questionnaire: We asked writer Dany Laferrière to reinterpret the Proust Questionnaire for the 21st century. He put together 20 questions that shine a light on who we really are, both as writers and as individuals.

1.  If you were Alice, would you rather stay in Wonderland on the other side of the mirror, or come back to the real world to tell your story?
Ideally, I'd always travel back and forth between reality and fantasy. I'd spend my nights immersed in dreams and awake the next day to tell stories of creatures I met behind the looking glass.

2. If your home were on fire, what prized keepsake would you grab on your way out?
My notebook. My bible of words, memories and faces.

3. What childhood fear do you still have as an adult?
Bungling a description and failing to capture life and the depth of the world around us.

4. Would it be okay to have a miserable childhood if that were a prerequisite for becoming a writer?
No. I could have died like little Aurore Gagnon before I became a writer. Surviving a miserable childhood is in itself a happy accident. In the end, you don't write because you were miserable; you write because you survived.

5. Do you wake up at night to read or write?
Not to read, but I often wake up to write. But in my head. Writing a book changes how I perceive and use my nights. I barely sleep while working on a book.

6. Do you feel anxious or excited when you start to write?
I feel anxious because I'm embarking on a journey with strangers in a strange land.

7. Does darkness soothe you or frighten you?
I have been very afraid of the dark. But it has also been my refuge. I once heard distant gunfire in the night. When daylight came, I saw my wounded arm and the blood. Darkness soothes, but it can't do so forever. After all, every night must come to an end.

8. Do you tend to hang on to a thousand little scraps of paper, or do you regularly clean out your drawers?
I hate my blue recycling bin. I fear that some stranger will take the paper I toss out and give it a whole different life. That's why I throw very little out.

9. Which animal would you rather be: a cat or a dog?
Like Mr. Bones in Paul Auster's novella, I'd be a dog travelling to Timbuktu where all canine souls end up. I'd be a dog, but not just anywhere, certainly not in the streets and junkyards of the South, getting kicked by passers-by and threatened with stoning every day. But life's hard. For humans, dogs and all creatures. People are stoned to death every day. So what's the difference being a dog?

10. Does love dry up your creative juices or make them flow faster?
Flow faster.

11. Do you remember your dreams?
It depends what I do before bed. A glass of wine before bed disturbs the depth of my sleep and the clarity of my dreams. A glass of water, however, helps me recall the stories that play out in my sleep.

12. What's your favourite colour?

13. What's your favourite season?
Spring. The birds return. And I can reread An Explanation of the Birds by Lobo Antunes.

14. Does pressure motivate you?
Yes, so I don't rest on my laurels.

15. Would you rather live to write or write to live?
Write to live another life.

16. What published book do you secretly wish you had written?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

17. Are you the paranoid type or calm, cool and collected?
Calm, cool and collected. It's how I try to survive despite my fears.

18. What would qualify as the afternoon of your dreams?
Lying in freshly cut grass, watching the sky and thinking of nothing.

19. Are you more like the sun or the moon?
Moon. Light and mystery, an image of the distance.

20. Do you hear voices?
Yes, voices from a future book.


Edem Awumey was born in Togo in 1975. His first novel, Port-Mélo, won the Grand Prix Littéraire de L'Afrique Noire, one of the most distinguished literary prizes in Africa, and his second novel, Les pieds sales, was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt. The English translation, Dirty Feet, was translated by the Governor General's Award-winning literary translator Lazer Lederhendler. Awumey now lives in Canada where he is a teacher.

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