Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Hiro Kanagawa on the fictional character he would love to join for dinner

Hiro Kanagawa, the winner of the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for drama, answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Indian Arm is an award-winning play by B.C.'s Hiro Kanagawa, adapted from Ibsen's Little Eyolf. (Adam Van Steinberg)

Unspoken resentment and guilt leads to tragedy for the family at the heart of Indian Arm, Hiro Kanagawa's award-winning play. Rita and Alfred Allmers, a middle-aged couple from Deep Cove, B.C., have grown apart since adopting their son Wolfie, who is of First Nations descent. Now 16, Wolfie's life has been challenging due a traumatic incident he suffered as a child. Tension is palpable throughout this play, which explores the relationship between Indigenous people and Canada's dominant white culture.

Below, the 2017 winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for drama takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Colleen Murphy asks, "How do you experience words — visually, audibly or in another way?"

I've often been told my writing is visually evocative, but when I'm writing I feel I choose words based on how precisely a word means what I want to say. The sound of the word in the context of the other words around it is also an important consideration. Interestingly, I also read and write Japanese, and in that language things are very different. Japanese has so many homophones which are represented in writing by radically different kanji characters. In Japanese I often find myself searching for the word I want by visualizing the kanji in my mind.

2. Tomson Highway asks, "Do you ever get jealous of other writers? If so, why?"

I am perpetually jealous of other writers. I am jealous of their worldly success. I am jealous of their great books. I am jealous of what I imagine is their absolute dedication to their craft and command of their artistic gifts. I am jealous of their smokey attic garrets and cottages in the woods. I am jealous of their dogs and six-toed cats. I am jealous, I guess, because I do not consider myself a "quintessential" writer, so I am jealous of those who appear to be.

3. Marina Endicott asks, "Can you love a book written by a lousy human being?"

How lousy are we talking? Faulkner said: "If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies." That's pretty lousy and by all accounts Faulkner was not someone you would actually want to spend time with, but I do love As I Lay Dying. On the other hand, I enjoyed William Burroughs and Yukio Mishima when I was young, but now that I'm older I can't get past the fact that Burroughs killed his wife and Mishima was an ultra-right lunatic.

4. Padma Viswanathan asks, "What is the place of dreams in literature or, for you, the relationship of dreaming to writing?"

I hardly ever remember my dreams, yet my "dream life" has become a cherished ally in my writing process. Whenever I get stuck on something and can't figure out how things fit, can't figure out what the character does or says next, can't figure out how to unravel and weave back together all the tangents of theme and plot, I just go to bed. I'll wake up between three or four in the morning with the solution clearly mapped out for me in my head. I keep a pen and pad of paper on the night table so I can jot down these "gifts" from the dream fairies. Then I go back to sleep, wake up a few hours later, and put it all together when I get to work after breakfast. I would be either completely lost or completely frustrated and disgruntled if this were not a part of my process.

5. Russell Wangersky asks, "When someone comes up to you and says 'I know you based your character X on me,' have they ever been right? And if they were, even in a small way, did you admit it?"

Yes and yes, because in my case it goes without saying that my characters are all composites and extrapolations of people and situations I know. I don't mind admitting it because even if someone feels I've based some small part of a character on them, they can also recognize that the rest of the character has nothing to do with them.

6. Hoa Nguyen asks, "What passages or pieces of literature have you committed to memory?"

Strangely, none. I could perhaps vaguely paraphrase the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude and the ending of The Great Gatsby and that would be about it. As I'm also an actor, you'd think I'd have some monologues memorized. I have actor friends who can recite monologues from plays they did years ago, but my memory is wiped clean of such things a few days after closing night. I do know every word to every song on the following Springsteen albums: The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River.

7. Aviaq Johnston asks, "What has been your biggest barrier to overcome in writing?"

The computer is both my main writing tool and main source of distraction and procrastination. During a writing session I might start out pursuing and researching some legitimate topic of exploration only to find myself hours later completely immersed in 9/11 conspiracy videos on YouTube.

8. Silvia Moreno-Garcia asks, "If you could have dinner with a fictional character, who would it be and why?"

First, let's agree that dinner is different from a week-long train ride on the Trans-Siberian or being stranded on a deserted island. I don't want to work too hard at dinner conversation myself, so I need someone who's gonna keep it light, enjoys food and drink, and most definitely has some entertaining stories to tell. I'm going with Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Can't beat an aristocrat who lived over 300 years as both a man and a woman.


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