News and Interviews

The Proust Questionnaire, with Kate Cayley

Kate Cayley 2017

Kate Cayley slips easily from genre to genre, gathering accolades in poetry, young adult and adult fiction (including scooping a prestigious Trillium Prize for her story collection How You Were Born), and playwriting.

Her latest literary offering is Other Houses (Brick Books), a collection of poetry which has been praised as "Predatory and unsettling... exquisitely crafted" (Martha Baillie). Its crackling creativity and wonderful strangeness come together in an intimate, lyrical collection that reads as fresh, deft, and insightful.

Today, we invited Kate to take our version of the famous Proust Questionnaire, a kind of personal quiz made popular by itself namesake author.

Kate tells us about extravagances and faults, gives a great definition of what a hero is, and shares a story of one pretty badass way to shuffle off this mortal coil. 

What is your dream of happiness? 

Writing four pages that I feel I can stand behind, then meeting my partner for lunch.

What is your idea of misery?

Loneliness, as opposed to solitude.

Where would you like to live?

New York, Berlin, somewhere rural in Vermont and Nova Scotia, somewhere rural in England, Halifax, Istanbul, and the neighbourhood in Toronto that I live in now.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?


What qualities do you admire most in a woman?


What is your chief characteristic?


What is your principal fault?


What is your greatest extravagance?


What faults in others are you most tolerant of?


What do you value most about your friends?

Shared memories.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Sensitivity to small slights.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Sensitivity to small slights.

What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?


What would you like to be?

Able to forgive more easily (myself and others).

What is your favourite colour?


What is your favourite flower?


What is your favourite bird?


What historical figure do you admire the most?

Simone Weil.

What character in history do you most dislike? 

Too numerous to answer.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

In no particular order: Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Yiyun Li, Jhumpa Lahiri, some of Ian MacEwen, Zadie Smith, some of A. S. Byatt, Mavis Gallant, Mordecai Richler, Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro, William Trevor, Penelope Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Arundhati Roy, Angela Carter, George Orwell, Marilynne Robinson, Junot Diaz, Grace Paley. I obviously need to read more non-fiction.

Who are your favourite poets?

W. H. Auden, William Blake, Keats, Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Derek Walcott, Tracy K. Smith, Zbigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymborska, Sue Sinclair, Gwendolyn McEwen, Lucille Clifton, Steven Price, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Margaret Atwood.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction? 

Frodo Baggins, Helen Huntingdon, Dunstan Ramsey.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Anyone trying to articulate the possibility of local change, of small-scale revolution without fanaticism. Anyone struggling to make something where they live instead of simply criticizing.

Who is your favourite painter?

Vincent Van Gogh.

Who is your favourite musician?

Leonard Cohen.

What is your favourite food?


What is your favourite drink?


What are your favourite names?

I don’t think I’ve thought about it, honestly.

What is it you most dislike?


What natural talent would you most like to possess?

I’d like to be able to sing tunefully.

How do you want to die?

The woman who lived in my house before we bought it went shopping one day, came home, sat down in her kitchen, lit a cigarette, and died in seconds of a massive stroke. She lived independently and was 84. That seems like a great way to go.

What is your current state of mind?

Uneasy but not unhappy. 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Being half-decent to my partner and my kids. I think some of my writing is okay too. 

What is your motto?

Do not hurry. Do not rest.


Kate Cayley is a poet, playwright, and fiction writer living in Toronto. She is the author of one previous poetry collection (When This World Comes to an End, Brick Books), a young adult novel (The Hangman in the Mirror, Annick Press), and a short story collection (How You Were Born, Pedlar Press), which won the 2015 Trillium Book Award and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. She has been a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto since 2009, and has written two plays produced by Tarragon, After Akhmatova, and The Bakelite Masterpiece.

Buy the Book

Other Houses

From acclaimed fiction writer and playwright Kate Cayley—poems that illuminate the deep strangeness of the familiar

In Other Houses, Kate Cayley’s second collection of poetry, objects are alive with the presence of the people who have handled them. Myths and legends are interwoven with daily life. Visionaries, mystics, charlatans, artists, and the dead speak to us like chatty neighbours. An imaginary library catalogues missing people. Reading becomes a way of remembering the dead. Home is an elsewhere we are “called to,” a mystery that impels children to wander off, and adults to grow in unexpected directions.

Cayley couples a rich, meaty lyricism with the intimacy of direct address, creating a poetry that is at once embodied and spectral. She directs us to wonder, “Did light and dark have a taste and texture, like food?” At the same time, her command of voice and narrative is masterful—each of these poems unfolds with the sweep and precision of a compressed novel.