Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight: André Alexis

September 8, 2019

André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His most recent novel, Fifteen Dogs, won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other books include Pastoral (nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize), Asylum, Beauty and Sadness, Ingrid & the Wolf, Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa and Lambton, Kent and Other Vistas: A Play.

What/who inspires you to write?

There are a number of things and people who have inspired me, but I think books have inspired me more than anything else. I sometimes think I write in response to other books even more than I feel the need to express my own impressions and feelings. So, I’ve been inspired by novels (Rachel Cusk’s Transit, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time…) and short stories (Paul Bowles’ A Distant Episode, Samuel Beckett’s First Love…) and poems (Donne’s Holy Sonnets, Dante’s Commedia, Robert Lowell’s Skunk Hour…)

Where is your favourite place to write?

A hotel room somewhere in New York or a cafe in a city I don’t know well.

Is there an activity you do to help inspire your writing?

No, not really. Nothing specific. Reading, I guess, or watching movies, or listening to music. I listen to loud music when I write, so when the writing isn’t going well, something by Matana Roberts (Song for Eulalie, say, but almost anything from the various iterations of Coin Coin) might get me going.

Do you have a tradition for every time you finish a book?

No. I wish I did, but I tend to feel slightly depressed – as well as euphoric – when a book is finished, so I never know what to do with myself.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading the books I’m teaching this year. So, Cusk’s Transit, Luiselli’s The Story of my Teeth, Yerofyev’s Moscow to the End of the Line, and a Harlequin romance by Sarah Morgan called Playing by the Greek’s Rules.

What is your favorite CanLit book?

Hard choice. As always, there isn’t only one. I love The Stone Angel, though I haven’t read it for a while. I still love Eunoia and Short Journey Upriver to Oishida and Running in the Family and…

What inspired you to write your Scotiabank Giller Prize nominated book?

The books I was reading – most of them listed at the back of the novel – and distant memories (and fears) of my encounters with the Canadian landscape, Canadian small towns, Canadian legends. (It’s a conspicuously Canadian book, in the end).

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

The same that the owner of a funhouse ride might want for his clients: amusement and a sense that our country is more unpredictable than its beautiful surfaces, even.

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