Writer in Residence

The Proust Questionnaire, with Barry Dempster

By Grace O'Connell

Barry Dempster is a poet, novelist, short fiction writer, children's writer and an editor, and is Open Book: Toronto's April 2014 Writer-in-Residence.

Stay tuned throughout the month to hear from Barry on all things poetry, writing, reading and otherwise, and read on for Barry's answers to our version of the famous Proust Questionnaire.

March 27, 2014 - The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

What is your dream of happiness?

To be able to accept how arbitrarily it comes and goes.

What is your idea of misery?
To feel the need to be happy all the time.

Where would you like to live?

New York City for a year with a free pass to all theatres, art galleries and jazz clubs.

What qualities do you admire most in a man? 

The strength to express feelings and be vulnerable, honest and compassionate.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman? 

The same.

What is your chief characteristic? 

Courage in the midst of ever present fear.

What is your principal fault? 


What is your greatest extravagance?


What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Being human.

What do you value most about your friends? 


What characteristic do you dislike most in others?


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?


What is your favourite virtue? 


What is your favourite occupation? 

The life-changing power of a teacher.

What would you like to be?

A zoologist.

What is your favourite colour? 

A Miles Davis kind of blue.

What is your favourite flower? 


What is your favourite bird?


What historical figure do you admire the most? 

Charles Darwin for his scholarship and his nerve.

What character in history do you most dislike? 

Any sort of dictator.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Paul Auster, Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow. Paul Bowles, Italo Calvino, Annie Dillard, Lawrence Durrell, Jonathan Franzen, Graham Greene, D.H. Lawrence, Lorrie Moorie, Evelyn Waugh, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf.

Who are your favourite poets?

Don Domanski, Eliot, Jack Gilbert, Louise Glück, Bob Hicok, Philip Larkin, Don McKay, Neruda, Sharon Olds. Rilke, Wallace Stevens.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, Corrigan in Let the Great World Spin, Cosimo in The Baron in the Trees, Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway, T.S. Garp in The World According to Garp, Paul Morel in Sons and Lovers, Scobie in The Heart of the Matter.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Teachers, healers, artists.

Who is your favourite painter?

Mark Rothko.

Who is your favourite musician?

Leonard Cohen.

What is your favourite food?

Chocolate icing.

What is your favourite drink?


What natural talent would you most like to possess?

The voice of Otis Redding.

How do you want to die? 


What is your current state of mind? 

Hoping against hope.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? 


What is your motto?

Paul Éluard’s “I must not mistake reality for being like myself.”


Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture and The Outside World, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. He is also Acquisitions Editor for Brick Books.

For more information about Invisible Dogs please visit the Bricks Books website.

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.

Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.

For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.