The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

Dionne Brand reveals her favourite journey, greatest fear and her heroes

The Toronto-based writer released two books this fall: the novel Theory and poetry book The Blue Clerk.
Dionne Brand is a poet, novelist and professor. (Jason Chow)

This interview originally aired on Oct. 25, 2018.

When poet and novelist Dionne Brand was named to the Order of Canada in 2017, it only further cemented her standing as one of Canada's most cherished literary voices. Her latest books include the novel Theory and the poetry collection The Blue Clerk

The Blue Clerk won the 2019 Trillium Book Award and was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize

Below, Brand takes The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire.

What do you value most in your friends?

"Their counsel, their indulgence and their differences from me. The fact that they know things that I don't."

On what occasions do you lie?

"I hate to think that I lie. But I probably do every day when I walk down the street and don't say something about the conditions under which people live. Maybe that's a lie."

What is your favourite journey?

"Once I went to the Atacama desert and I loved that journey because we took a car toward a small town in the middle of the desert. That journey was wonderful because if you look behind you and before you, you could not locate where you were. I loved that that feeling of always being in the middle or at the beginning or at the end.

"I had this idea that I needed silence and it was true because the moment that I landed in the desert it was so quiet. It freed some set of conversations in my head. It was utterly, utterly quiet. I thought that was really beautiful. It was immediately healing, the quiet. We live in cities that are full of noise, including the noise of electrical wires. I just loved being in that quiet."

Where would you like to live?

"I'd like to live in a city by the sea. In a city with with no poverty, by the sea."

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

"That's a tricky one, but I think mangoes or the smell of lavender. That's good enough for me."

Who are your favourite characters in history?

"Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution in 1789. Also Harriet Tubman, who led many people out of bondage. There was a woman who I had written about and her name was Thisbe. She was brought up on charges in 1806 of rebellion against slavery. They sentenced her to death to burning and hanging. And she said, 'This is what a drink of water to what others have already suffered.'"

Who are your favourite heroes in real life?

"Angela Davis, without question. Just for her courage and resistance. She fought, and still fights, for the eradication of racism and for the human rights of people. She was a dear part of my growing up. That radicalism, that determination and that courage to take on the state of the United States of America at the time. It filled me with such awe. The grace of her, in the face of the persecution by the then governor of California Ronald Reagan, and her imprisonment taught me a lot about fighting against the forces of injustice. She stands, still, as a beacon."

What is your greatest extravagance?

"Shoes. Shoes are my greatest extravagance. And pens, fountain pens. Shoes and fountain pens. Guilty."

What is your greatest fear?

"Burial. I think I want to be cremated. Even though I won't be here to know what that would be, burial seems horrible to me, to be locked in a small space. Even though with cremation, you'd probably be locked in a small space too, but it will be brief. Ideally I'd like to be wrapped in some sort of sheet and placed up in the tree for the birds to take me. Or I'd like to be sent to the depths of the ocean. But burial is just the most horrible thought."

Dionne Brand's comments have been edited for length and clarity.




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