Writer in Residence

On Back and Forth

By James Lindsay

Much like how poetry and fiction can give perspective on inner dialogue—the stuff of conscious thought—and how it works, interviews can be displays of outer thought—the stuff of collaboration and conversation: the bricks and mortar of society. In the best cases what we witness in an interview is an exercise in empathy, two minds tossing language back and forth, trying to get at a point, and working to get at that point together. Whether that goal, that conclusion of thought, is reached is not important, and not why we play audience to the exchange. It’s the exchange itself that is significant. In an age where more and more conversations and disagreements happen in the public forum of social media, often with explosive emotion, interviews can offer reprieve as focused calms that force the reader to observe instead of giving in to the impulse to comment, to jump in before the interaction asks for it.

I was offered this residency after another writer had to drop out, with little time to prepare, so my first thought was to start interviews right away. I thought of interviews as a way of drawing attention to writers I think are doing good work and have interesting opinions that could be explored, but also as way of generating content.

I sent the interviewees one question at a time by email. This was originally for efficacies sake, but it also gave both of us a chance to be more thoughtful in the responses and follow-ups. When the interviews were done and I had formatted them, I let the other side look over what they had written and gave them a chance to self-edit, this lead to a more thoughtful, cooperative exchange.

As the month ran on, I began to see the interviews not as simply profiles or giving different voices a forum, but more akin to a collaborative essay or a public conversation that I stewarded. I began to see the interviews as brief, unique relationships, a kind that serves a specific purpose and with the knowledge that it will be public. A good interview is like a competent duo dancing: a leader sets the pace, but the other party should be the one everyone is paying attention to. With that in mind, there is an emphasis for both parties to do their best to communicate fluently.

Interviews will never replace the importance of the long-form essay, but they can give something that much writing lacks: duality of opinion. It’s watching two minds display their differences while still moving forward in the communication, relying on the other as a catalyst to keep going.

Anyone who has ever helped someone move a couch out of an apartment knows this. Both of you are dependant on one another to not drop the couch, to not let the other lifter get hurt as you navigate down narrow hallways and stairwells; one walking backwards while the other helps guide them; one taking the brunt of the weight while the other steadies the load.

I would like to thank Grace, Holly, Open Book and everyone who I interviewed, who took the time to respond to my questions.

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: Toronto.

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.

James Lindsay has been a bookseller for more than a decade. He is also co-owner of Pleasence Records in Toronto, a record label specializing in post-punk, odd-pop and avant-garde sound pieces.