The Three Rs: Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
March 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the novels Perfecting and The Nettle Spinner and the short story collection Way Up. A new novel All The Broken Things is forthcoming from Random House of Canada early in 2014. Her recent short fiction has been featured in Granta Magazine, The Walrus and Storyville. She is the recipient of The Sidney Prize. Kathryn teaches creative writing at The University of Toronto School for Continuing Studies and is Associate Faculty in the MFA at the University of Guelph.
When did you first know you wanted to write books?
I knew this from a really early age – five years of age or so. I wrote the first (and only) chapter of my first book when I was in kindergarten, and actually kept it in my bottom drawer. I think all writers know where to hide their manuscripts. They know this in utero. From the womb, they await the dresser. In the seventh grade, I had a teacher who saw me for what I was. Mrs. Simpson is one of the reasons I write. She could see that I was a writer. Years later, she saw me selling bread at a local market, and recognized me. She was much smaller than I remembered because, of course, I had grown. The first thing she said to me: Are you still writing? I was.
What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?
I’m a very chaotic writer and I don’t have a set habit. It’s hard to describe how my day looks because, in a way, I am not there. I am in a scene in my head watching the words scroll out and sometimes deleting and trying again. I am sure the day is happening around me, and sometimes I notice it, or I’m interrupted, and forced to participate in the day. But if I want to honestly answer your question, the day looks (on good days) like the story coming to life, and on bad days, it looks like everybody else’s day, I guess — breakfast lunch dinner friends facebook reading dog-walking sorrow love joy. Bad days are not so bad, in other words, they just don’t feel as complete or as satisfying.
Do you type or write?
I do both. Don’t they call it keyboarding nowadays?
What do you read while you’re writing?
It used to be that I couldn’t read fiction while I was busy with a new project but lately it doesn’t matter. I can read anything. Usually, though, when I am in a new story, I read things that I think might feed the innovation of that story. For this new novel, All The Broken Things (scheduled to come out with Random House of Canada in early 2014), I read books about sign language, Agent Orange, bear wrestling, professional wrestling, the Vietnam War (the Vietnamese call this war the American War), carnival and freak show, handicap, my neighbourhood in Toronto (The Junction) and looking. I read a lot about looking, about how we look at others. I also read the Middle English poem Sir Orfeo, translated it (badly!) and mulled over Tolkien’s translation of it. On of the most peculiar books I came across is a 1982 translation (Janis Pallister) of the mid-1500s On Monsters and Marvels by Ambroise Paré. It is filled with more or less imagined creatures (for example, “figure of a monstrous child, coming from a lack of seed in proper quantity.” Shown in sketch form, the child has various disabilities, the strangest of which is to have been born with a jaunty cap upon his head!). It’s always such an act of trust to bring together elements without fully understanding why until well into the writing.
What have you read recently that you really loved?
I recently read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and adored it. I also quite loved Ali Smith’s new essay/novel Artful.
What are your all-time favourites?
I don’t really think of books in this way. I love the writing of Kenzeburo Oë, and Yoko Ogawa, but these are in translation, of course. I also have loved John Fante, Italo Calvino, Katherine Mansfield, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath, Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Celine, all fairy tales, myths, etc. I have enjoyed the work of Roberto Bolaño, Haruki Murakami, Lydia Millet, Chris Adrian. Also, Penelope Fitzgerald, Muriel Spark, Beryl Bainbridge – as you can see the list just goes on and on. Come visit my library sometime!!
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
I would read. I would read and take up painting and drawing. I used to do these things when I was a young girl but they have fallen to the wayside. I suppose you will say I am cheating the question…
What’s your third R, and why?
Religion. It’s difficult for me to admit this since I am a lapsed Catholic and a reticent non-believer. You can’t escape the guilt of not-believing if you’ve been brought up in a religion, I think. It’s in the bloodstream, that guilt. The thing is, I’m fascinated by belief, which makes sense if you think of converting from Catholicism to Authorism. They both require a deep faith, they both rely on believers, they both make stuff up and expect a kind of slavish faith, they are both predicated on text. My novel Perfecting was about religion to a large extent but really all my work tries, and fails, to avoid this central issue of belief, and desire/yearnings around belief. It’s my repetition compulsion — the trauma I have to come to live with.