Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Christine Chia
By Yeow Kai Chai
As Christine Chia herself readily admits, people who meet her for the first time are often taken aback by how warm she is in person. Her conviviality bely the ways dualities shade and shadow her tough-as-nails narratives, meshing autobiography, journalism, fiction and poetic imagination.
Her first poetry collection, The Law of Second Marriages (2011), invites you into a house of mirrors and hitherto unopened rooms, reflecting and refracting fragments of her storied life – a father's untimely passing, a mother's abuse and child abandonment, and a second mother. In fact, she had described her family history in an earlier interview "as a locked room that you locked so that your guests won't think you are an incurable, infectious mess and shun you forever." Her second verse collection, Separation: A History (2014), zooms in on her father's life and justxaposes it against the political divorce between Singapore and Malay.
A former educator who taught at Victoria Junior College, she also co-edited a series of poetry anthologies, namely, A Luxury We Cannot Afford (2014) and A Luxury We Must Afford (2016), both from Math Paper Press, and Lines Spark Code (Ethos Books, 2017), the latter of which was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to help spark Singaporean students' interest in Singaporean poetry.
Chia has been featured at various editions of Singapore Writers Festival, as well as the Singapore Literature Festival in New York, and has contributed her poetry to journals such as Prairie Schooner, Softblow, Washington Square Review, and Blue Lyra Review. She is drafting her first speculative fiction novel and revising her first play, We Cannot Bring Money When We Die, after its first read at Centre 42.
1) What are you reading right now?
2) If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, what would you be and why?
3) What is the greatest misconception about you?
4) Name one living writer and one dead writer you most identify with, and tell us why.
5) Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6) What qualities do you most admire in a writer?
7) What is one trait you most deplore in writing or writers?
8) Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9) Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10) At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11) What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12) Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three items: reconciliation, drift, alien.
13) What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14) What is the best time of the day for writing?
15) If you have a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16) Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard spills the beans about his family in the six-volume auto-fiction series My Struggle. It is critically acclaimed but half his family won't speak to him. You yourself have wrestled with your family history in your two poetry collections. How do you decide on the subjects for your poems, and do you draw a line on privacy?
17) What would you write on your own tombstone?