Writer in Residence

Unsung Heroes of Literature: Interview with a Semicolon

By Andrew Kaufman

On Semicolon’s suggestion, we agreed to meet at Future Bakery, a coffee house at the corner of Bloor and Brunswick in downtown Toronto. The location was surprisingly humble, a place where third-year English students and struggling artists might meet to kill a few hours in the afternoon. Needing to organize my questions and go over my notes I arrived forty minutes early: Semicolon was already there. Having already secured a table by the window, they waved me over. I expected to meet someone confident to the point of arrogance, with a vaguely European pretention. The creature sitting near the window was the opposite of my expectations. Semicolon smelt of cigarettes, with fingers stained yellow from nicotine. Both their jeans and their hair desperately needed washing. They complained when I used my phone to start recording the interview and agreed to it only after I pointed out that it would ensure our interview was published verbatim. This would turn out to be just the first of many moments when Semicolon’s behaviour boarded on paranoia. What follows below is the complete transcript of our admittedly short interview, without editing of any sort.


Open Book: How are you today?

Semicolon: Misunderstood.

OB: Oh. I’m sorry you feel like that. Why are you feeling misunderstood?

SC: Don’t give me that.

OB: Excuse me?

SC: You people don’t even try.

OB: You’re feeling under-appreciated as well as misunderstood?

SC: Do you know that in 1837 two professors at the University of Paris actually had a duel about me while translating Ancient Roman texts? I have value! Meaning! Significance! Tell me, when’s the last time you saw me in a Tweet?

OB: Well the nature of Internet doesn’t always call for complex sentence    structure.

SC: Do you want me to leave? Because I will. I’ll stand right up and walk right out of here.

OB: What did I say?

SC: It’s the attitude.

OB: Sorry?

SC: The attitude that I’m complex, complicated, hard to use.

OB: I thought that might be something you revelled in.

SC: Are you implying that I’m difficult?

OB: I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a lot of people find you difficult.  

SC: Do you know how to use a period?

OB: Of course.

SC: Do you know how to use a comma?

OB: Yes.

SC: Then it’s not so fucking difficult sweetie. I’m a period on top of a comma. That’s all that I am.

OB: Why don’t we start with some biographical information? What can you tell me about your origins?

SC: Ancient Roman! Now there was a society that revered its punctuation.

OB: But you were a very different punctuation mark back then. Weren’t you?

SC: It’s true. I was more like a question mark. But not really a question mark. There’s really no contemporary equivalent.

OB: Maybe that’s where the confusion comes in?

SC: What confusion?

OB: I think, it’s … well … I’m not sure everyone feels they have a complete understanding of what exactly it is that you do.

SC: Take a complete statement; put it next to another complete statement that is in some way related. That’s it! That’s the whole fucking deal! Jesus Christ god-damn what’s so difficult about that?

OB: Honestly?

SC: No: I want you to lie to me.

OB: I think it’s the ‘in some way related’ part. It’s rather vague...

SC: Vague?

OB: Yes. With the colon…

SC: Oh Jesus. Here we go! Everybody fucking loves the fucking colon. OB: The colon’s more straight-forward, easy to use.

SC:  How in any goddamn way is the colon easier to use than I am?

OB: It’s like an equal sign. The colon connects two complete statements but the relationship between them is extremely obvious. Check out this crazy statement: this next statement completes it, sums it up.  You know?

SC: I don’t see how that’s easier.

OB: The Colon can also be used for emphasis. For shock value: blam!

SC: You know we used to date, right?

OB: Who?

SC: Me and Colon.

OB: Maybe we could talk about the Aldus Manutius, the Venetian humourist and printer credited for brining you back into usage in 1437.

SC: We dated for a while, actually.

OB: Manutius?

SC: No. Colon!

OB: Really?

SC: No: I’m lying to you.

OB: Funny, she’s never mentioned you.

SC: You know Colon?

OB: I do.

SC: How’s she looking?

OB: Can you talk about a little bit about being rediscovered by Manutius? How his usage changed your meaning?

SC: Colon used to do this thing in Garamond. Un-fucking-believable.

OB: I feel like we’re getting a little off-track. Semicolon? Are you … are you crying?

SC: What’s the point? I’m just going to … it’s just going to get worse and worse. I know it’s true. I know I’m hard to use. But I’m worth the effort. I am! I really am! Use me well and you’ll look like a genius.

OB: But use you poorly you and you look like an idiot who thinks they’re a genius.

SC: That’s it!

OB: No. I’m sorry.

SC: Too late.

OB: No don’t go. Please come back. Please?

SC: Fuck you; fucking fuck you.


Unsung Heroes of Literature is a series of interviews with the most under-appreciated or routinely overlooked aspects of the book. Up next - Interview with a Blurb.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Andrew Kaufman lives and writes in Toronto. He was born in Wingham, Ontario, making him the second-most-famous Canadian writer to come from Wingham. He is the author of international bestseller All My Friends are SuperheroesThe Waterproof Bible, ReLit Award–winner The Tiny Wife, and Born Weird, which was named a Best Book of the Year by The Globe and Mail and was shortlisted for the Leacock award. His newest novel is Small Claims (Invisible Publishing).