News and Interviews

The Proust Questionnaire, with Jane Ozkowski

Jan O

Jane Ozkowski was the winner of House of Anansi’s Broken Social Scene Story Contest, which invited writers to submit works inspired by the band's iconic You Forgot It In People album. The contest also celebrated the tenth anniversary of indie darling music label Arts & Crafts.

Now Jane's first full length book, the young adult novel Watching Traffic (Groundwood Books) is here, and it taps into one of the great YA subjects: that final summer before college, with all its accompanying magic, growing up, and self-discovery. The novel follows Melissa, who longs to get out of her small town and be more than a summer job caterer and the girl who was abandoned by her mother as a child. The spot-on emotion, witty tone, and dreamy prose of Watching Traffic make it not only a great read for the teens in your life, but a great portal for adult readers back to that simultaneously vulnerable and invincible moment of teetering on the edge of the grown up world. 

We're thrilled to have Jane on Open Book today to take our version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, where we try to get to know authors on a personal level. She shares her excellent vision for a happy world, her very Canadian childhood obsession, and an upbeat motto we can get behind.

What is your dream of happiness?

It would involve world peace, and a dismantling of the patriarchy. Otherwise, drinking tea and reading a good book on a front porch somewhere.

What is your idea of misery?

Being trapped.

Where would you like to live?

On a lake or the ocean where I can swim every day and look romantically into the distance during a storm.

What is your chief characteristic?


What is your principal fault?

My ambition.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Cheese and charcuterie boards. 

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

For some reason, I usually find hypocrisy extremely charming.

What do you value most about your friends?

Their sense of humour and fun.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Willful ignorance.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

I sometimes surprise myself by how flaky I can be. Oftentimes I go several days without responding to a single text or email.

What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?

Drinking coffee with friends and eating Nanaimo bars.

What would you like to be?

Myself, only taller.

What is your favourite colour?


What is your favourite flower?

White tulips. 

What is your favourite bird?

Crow or sparrow. 

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Miriam Toews, Heather O’Neill, Denis Johnson.

Who are your favourite poets?

Richard Siken, Anne Carson.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Legs Sadovsky from Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates.

Who are your heroes in real life?

As a child, I was OBSESSED with Roberta Bondar.

Who is your favourite musician?

I’ve had How Come the Rocks Don’t Sing by Del Stephen on repeat for months now.

What is your favourite food?

Cheese and charcuterie boards.

What is your favourite drink?

Black tea with milk, or else whiskey, neat when I want people to think I’m cool.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

I have almost zero grace. I’ve come to accept that this general awkwardness is a part of who I am, but I would love to have one day of my life when I didn’t accidentally spill tea or soy sauce over everything I own.

How do you want to die?

Elegantly and epically, when I’m very old and ready to go.

What is your motto?

Try your best, forget the rest!


Jane Ozkowski has a BA in English and Creative Writing from York University. She works in the office at a motorcycle driving school, and although she does not have a motorcycle, she does have her license in case she needs to make a quick getaway. Watching Traffic is her first novel.

Jane is the winner of House of Anansi’s Broken Social Scene Story Contest and is currently working on an adult novel set in Toronto during the apocalypse.

Buy the Book

Watching Traffic

Emily has finally finished high school in the small town where she has lived her whole life. At last, she thinks, her adult life can begin.

But what if you have no idea what you want your new life to look like? What then?

While Lincoln gets ready to go backpacking in Australia, Melissa packs for university on the east coast, and a new guy named Tyler provides welcome distraction, Emily wonders whether she will end up working forever at Pamela’s Country Catering, cutting the crusts off party sandwiches and stuffing mushrooms. Is this her future? Being known forever as the local girl whose mother abandoned her in the worst way possible all those years ago? Visiting her spacey grandmother, watching nature shows on TV with her dad and hanging out with Robert the grocery clerk? Listening to the distant hum of the highway leading out of the town everyone can’t wait to leave?

With poetic prose and a keen eye for the quirks and ironies of small-town life, Jane Ozkowski captures the bittersweet uncertainty of that weird, unreal summer after high school — a time that is full of possibility and completely terrifying at the same time.