News and Interviews

The Proust Questionnaire with Gwen Benaway

Gwen Benaway

Gwen Benaway's second collection of poetry, Passage (Kegedonce Press), doesn't shy away from exploring not only the difficult subject of violence, but also its aftermath in the lives of survivors.

Ranging from colonization to family violence, the nature and legacy of destruction is explored in this poetic excursion that takes readers to Northern Ontario, the Great Lakes, and beyond.

The power and affirmation of Benaway's journey as a transwoman provides a bright, guiding light through the collection. Passage showcases the raw, deft talent of a Two Spirited writer to watch. 

Today we welcome Gwen to Open Book to take on our version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, a personal, literary quiz popularized by its namesake and meant to reveal the true character of the respondent. Gwen tells us about a cabin you'd definitely want to visit, gets real about what she admires in men and women, and shares a rallying cry of a motto.

What is your dream of happiness?

A snow covered cabin in the back woods, the dead of a winter night, a wall of Fantasy books, an Alaskan wolf dog named Gisinaa, infinite stars above, and someone to read particularly humorous Wizard love scenes out loud to.

What is your idea of misery?

A room filled with well intentioned liberal white people discussing reconciliation, transgender identity, and the meaning of Canadian literature.

Where would you like to live? 

In the mountains where there is always snow, a persistent cold in the air, constant changes in weather, readily available fast food and a year round Christmas store. Just like the town of Banff.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

I admire men who have a sincere sense of responsibility. There seems to be a shift in masculinity within Queer culture and the broader Arts scene towards a softer, more open version of masculinity, but I find men don’t actually stop being oppressive or predatory towards women. They mask it by asserting a gentle queer/trans/sex positive masculinity, but still don’t take any responsibility for their actions towards women/transwomen or their privilege. I admire men who embrace their responsibilities and actually work hard at honouring those responsibilities.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

I admire women who are capable. The women I respect are the women who accomplish their goals through their effort and perseverance in the face of adversity. I find Western culture values women for their aesthetics, but Anishinaabe culture values women for our capacity to give and sustain life through our work, knowledge, and leadership. Men are always chasing “manic pixie girls” which makes them feel like they’ve won a prize, but they never seem to appreciate our agency or our accomplishments. Likely because that would require respect for our shared humanity or an appreciation that we aren’t reprogrammable sex toys to meet an endless series of masculine desires.

What is your chief characteristic?

Learned skepticism balanced by a romantic dream of life.  

What is your principal fault?

A tendency to sense what is missing in every moment; a kind of gift but it can cause me to miss what is present.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Bath products, French perfume, and more scented products that anyone can believe.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Youthful exuberance.

What do you value most about your friends?

Sincerity, compassion, responsibility to others. 

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Pettiness, cruelty, intellectual dishonesty.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Emotional variability.

What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?

Retail in a mall at Christmas.

What would you like to be?

What I am, only happier. Isn’t what everyone wants? Or a Wizard.

What is your favourite colour?

Midnight Blue, just on the edge of black. Red is a close second.

What is your favourite flower?

Lily of the Valley.

What is your favourite bird?


What historical figure do you admire the most?

Audre Lorde.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Duncan Campbell Scott.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Mercedes Lackey, Robin Hobb, Melanie Rawn, Tanya Huff, Lynn Flewelling.

Who are your favourite poets?

Audre Lordre, Adrienne Rich, Tim Dulgos, Karen Solie, Sue Sinclair, Lorna Crozier, Katherena Vermette, Frank O’Hara, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Robin Blaser, Mark Doty, and so many others.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Eowyn from LOTR.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My dead dog - boundless optimism, constant joy, and a loyal heart. 

Who is your favourite painter?

Kent Monkman.

Who is your favourite musician?

Tracy Chapman, Patty Griffin, and anything 80s New Wave.

What is your favourite food?

Curry Don-Katsu.

What is your favourite drink?

Diet Cherry Coke.

What are your favourite names?

Durga, Aeron, and Branwen.

What is it you most dislike?

Laziness, smallness of spirit.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Musical talent, as I have none and it seems like a worthy occupation.

How do you want to die?

Alone at night, aware of my surroundings and with sufficient mental clarity to embrace it.

What is your current state of mind?

Hormone hazed.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Surviving to my 30s with some gentleness and wisdom left. 

What is your motto?

“Burning up myself, I would leave fire behind me.” -Robin Blaser, The Fire (1967)


Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013 and her second collection of poetry, Passage, is forthcoming from Kegedonce Press in Fall 2016. As emerging Two-Spirited Trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker's Award for a Young Author and in 2016 she received a Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writer's Trust of Canada. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally.