Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with John Yau
By Yeow Kai Chai
Poet, fictionist, art critic, curator, editor and publisher, John Yau is a ceaselessly innovative polymath who cannot be pinned down.
As an Asian American whose father was half-English, the prolific author has consistently in more than 50 books defied "oppressive rules" of conventional discourse, what he regards as "the structures of language — the accepted narratives, their little boxes."
In 1999, he started Black Square Editions, a small press devoted to poetry, fiction, translation and criticism. He is currently an editor of an online journal, Hyperallergic Weekend (hyperallergic.com/weekend/), and an editor-at-large for The Brooklyn Rail (www.brooklynrail.org/).
The New York-based author is an associate professor of critical studies at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. His latest poetry collection, Further Adventures in Monochrome, has been published by Copper Canyon Press.
1) What are you reading right now?
In no particular order:
a) City Gorged with Dreams: Surrealism and Documentary Photography in Interwar Paris (Manchester University Press, 2002) by Ian Walker
b) Engine Empire (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012) by Cathy Park Hong
c) Robert Duncan: The Collected Early Poems and Plays (University of California Press, 2012), edited and with an Introduction by Peter Quartermain
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 author and one dead author 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 would you go for?
11) What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12) Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three items: knife, bookkeeper and fortune cookie.
The bookkeeper was secretly a bookie
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) You're known for collaborations with artists across different media. If you could work with someone from another era and another discipline, who would it be and what would you produce?
17) What would you write on your own tombstone?