News and Interviews

The WAR Interview Series: Writers as Readers with Kate Sutherland

Kate Sutherland can do it all – she's a lawyer, a scholar, a prose writer, and now she is adding poet to her list of achievements. Her debut collection, How to Draw a Rhinoceros (BookThug), is suitably ambitious for a writer who clearly doesn't shrink from a challenge; the eye-catching title isn't an elaborate metaphor, but rather a topical nod to a book that actually focuses on the one-horned animal. From the Middle Ages and travelling circuses to Roosevelt and Hemingway, How to Draw Rhinoceros charts the western fascination with rhinos, exploring colonialism, the animal-human relationship, and our natural world in the process.

How to Draw a Rhinoceros is an utterly creative, unexpectedly affecting, and poetically sophisticated collection, and we're thrilled to welcome Kate to the site today as part of our WAR Series: Writers as Readers, talking about the books that have shaped her as a reader and a writer.

We're also excited to announce that Kate will be joining the Open Book fold in October 2016 as our writer-in-residence for that month, so stay tuned to the site for lots more from Kate!

Kate-Sutherland_Author-Photo_Credit-Eric-Bridenbaker

Today she tells us about the books that made her cry, the one that still makes her marvel, even on repeat readings, and shares an epitaph we'd like to steal for our own.

The first book I remember reading on my own:

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The opening lines of “The Lamplighter” still stick in my head. Though that makes me question if I really read it myself or if I just memorized bits of it after my mom had read it to me multiple times. I learned to read young but I’ve also always had a good memory.

A book that made me cry:

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Ah, a book read in childhood, you might be thinking. But no, this was just last year as I was riding a bus home from work. And I was listening to an audio version so I didn’t even have a paper book to hide behind.

The first adult book I read:

I’m tempted to say Scruples by Judith Krantz but I didn’t actually read that one all the way through. The friend who snuck it out of her mother’s bookshelf just read me bits of it during a sleepover at her house. So a more accurate answer would be Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It was a hardcover edition borrowed from the library, the heft of which I recall finding very satisfying. It’s another book that made me cry. I’m sure if I reread it now I’d weep for different reasons.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Rose’s Run by Dawn Dumont. Narrator Rose Okanese has such a wonderfully wry voice, meeting huge challenges with extraordinary humour. There are terrifying bits too though. An unusual mix.

The book I have re-read many times:

I’ve reread many childhood favourites countless times (i.e. pretty much everything that L.M. Montgomery and Maud Hart Lovelace wrote). But the book I have reread most frequently as an adult is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. It seems to me a perfect novel and I continue to marvel over how exactly Spark put it together.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I’ve started and stopped reading this book a ridiculous number of times. And I’ve always enjoyed it while reading it, but somehow never developed the momentum to get all the way through.

The book I would give my seventeen-year-old self, if I could:

A single book wouldn’t cover it. What I wish I’d read at that formative time is a much broader range of poetry. I had such a conventional idea then of what a poem could be, and I didn’t find my way to the work that upended my preconceptions until much later. I’m still trying to make up for lost time in my poetry reading.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip. It’s a stunning sequence of poems about the Zong massacre constructed using only words contained in the legal judgment of an insurance case that was brought in the aftermath. It dramatically expanded my sense of the possibilities that lie at the intersection of law and poetry—very galvanizing to think about ways that poetry can be used to challenge law as I work at teaching law and writing poems side by side.

The best book I read in the past six months:

Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair. A brilliant book of poems that I’d like to press into the hands of everyone I know.

The book I plan on reading next:

Blackacre by Monica Youn. Several tantalizing reviews have me keen to read it, but there’s added motivation in that there’s a legal angle to this collection of poems which has me wondering if it would be a good addition to the syllabus of the Law and Literature seminar that I teach.

A possible title for my autobiography:

Recently, one groggy morning, I posted “up too late reading” as a Facebook status update and suggested it might prove my epitaph. That would work just as well as a title for my autobiography.

Kate Sutherland was born in Scotland, grew up in Saskatchewan, and now lives in Toronto, where she is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. She is the author of two collections of short stories: Summer Reading (winner of a Saskatchewan Book Award for Best First Book) and All In Together GirlsHow to Draw a Rhinoceros is Sutherland’s first collection of poems.


Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.

For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related reading

How To Draw A Rhinoceros

From BookThug: How to Draw a Rhinoceros, the first book of poems by Canadian writer, scholar, and lawyer Kate Sutherland, mines centuries of rhinoceros representations in art and literature to document the history of European and North American encounters with the animal.