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Short Story Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with Daniel Karasik

There are ten names on the shortlist for this year’s CBC Short Story Prize. But before we announce the winner, we want to let you know a little about the writers whose stories rose to the top. 

Daniel Karasik is a playwright, poet, actor, and artistic director of Tango Co., a Toronto-based independent theatre company. His story, "Mine", is shortlisted for the 2011-2012 CBC Short Story Prize. 

1. Tell us a little about yourself. 
I’m a 25-year-old writer based in Toronto. Grew up in the suburbs (Thornhill). Have spent the last seven or eight years trying to balance a career in the professional theatre and film/TV industries, where I work mostly as a playwright and actor, with part-time studies at the University of Toronto and my other, non-dramatic writing. 

2. What do you usually write?
I tend to move between forms a lot. Playwriting has been my bedrock for a while; the theatre was where I got the most significant early encouragement as a writer. But I’ve written fiction seriously (well, “seriously”) for much longer than I’ve written drama. My computer hard drive is dotted with the scarred remains of lousy—though completed!—drafts of novels composed in my teenaged years. And I’ve written poetry for a long time too, getting on ten years now. My friendship and working relationship with the wonderful poet and editor Robyn Sarah, who’s editing my first poetry collection due out next year from Cormorant Books, has been particularly instrumental in keeping a dialogue about poetry alive in my life. 

My literary centre of gravity these days seems to be fiction, though. It has room for everything I prize most in literature: the thoughtful, complex investigation of character and theme, and the bloom of language.  

3. Have you submitted to the competition before? 
Nope. This was the first time I'd submitted to any of the CBC's literary competitions.

4. What is your story about?
It's about an elderly man who, suffering from dementia, starts to address his wife as though she's the woman with whom he had an affair many years earlier. It's about fidelity, devotion.

5. What was the inspiration for your story?
I wrote the first draft of “Mine” when I was 19 and volunteering/studying abroad. Weirdly, considering its brevity, I think I started it in Jerusalem and finished it in Paris. This pseudo-cosmopolitan background matters only in that the stories I wrote at that time, including “Mine,” probably benefitted from the broadening of my worldview that trip represented for me. It was an uncomfortable trip in lots of ways and one that required some stretching of my empathy, and I think this comes through in the fiction I wrote in the midst of it. I also gained perspective on my life at home in Canada and felt freed to write about it simply and honestly. 

6. How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
I wrote the first draft of the story in 2006 in a matter of days. The second draft, later that year, brought it pretty close to its current form. I've since combed and tweaked it many, many times, and I haven't started a new file each time, so the draft count gets a bit ambiguous. For what it's worth, I have four separate versions of the story saved on my computer.

7. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was seven or eight years old, I think. But I’ve also often resisted the idea of being a writer. At this point I think writing is what I should be doing, what I most authentically have to offer—I feel a strong, probably pretentious, possibly idiotic sense of vocation about it—but certainly I’ve often questioned whether it’s a meaningful or socially responsible thing to do. Plenty of pangs of wishing I were in law school with my childhood friends. Plenty of wondering whether a “full-time artist” can be, in terms of service and civic duty, a good citizen. But then I seem to keep on writing…

8. Who's your favourite Canadian writer and why?
Don't know how I'd choose! Fiction writers Mordecai Richler, Barbara Gowdy, David Bezmozgis, Rawi Hage, and Miriam Toews. The poets Robyn Sarah, A.F. Moritz, and Bruce Taylor. Dramatists Jason Sherman, Michael Healey, and Wajdi Mouawad. Jack-of-all-literary-trades Michael Redhill. All of them are witty and at times very funny writers, they all have wonderfully original voices, and each has a distinct and compelling vision of the world. 

9. What's your favourite short story ever written and why?
My favourite short stories are all boringly obvious contenders for that title. Chekhov's “The Lady With The Dog” is a masterpiece of tenderness and wit. Joyce's “Araby” and “The Dead” haunt me - their incantatory language, again their tenderness. Raymond Carver's very moving “Cathedral.” I recently read a mesmerizing Julio Cortazar story called “End of the Game,” and his “Blow-Up” (which the Antonioni film of that title is based on) is also wonderful. I think a good short story is equal parts drama and poetic revelation, and those stories all fit the bill, for me. 


Daniel Karasik’s award-winning plays have been seen in Toronto, New York, and Germany. He is the author of 
The Crossing Guard and In Full Light, a volume of plays published by Playwrights Canada Press, and is one of eleven poets featured in Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, a Cormorant Books anthology; Cormorant also plans to publish his first poetry collection in 2013. He recently completed his first novel, for which he received the Alta Lind Cook Prize and the Norma Epstein National Literary Award. 

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