An Interview with Priscila Uppal

So I had just finished posting my review of “To Whom it May Concern” a couple of days ago and voila! Here’s an interview with the writer Priscila Uppal. I also requested her to let us know her Top 10 favourite books and she did. So here goes…

When do poetry and prose truly merge in writing? Do they ever? “To Whom it May Concern” has a vast range of poetic imagery. Was it intentional?

I am a poet and a fiction writer (as well as an essayist and non-fiction writer), and since both genres utilize language, I think it’s only natural that my prose frequently displays conventionally poetic stylistics and my poetry displays conventionally prosaic stylistics. I think is metaphors, and to me that means that I am frequently trying to make viable and provocative connections between disparate elements, objects, ideas, worlds. Metaphors help ground the abstract, complex connections.

 What is your idea of family and its eccentricities?

Family is an essential construct, but it can be duplicated easily involving people who are not your blood relatives. When a family construct is beneficial, it offers support, resources, stability, and the freedom to experiment and to express. When it is destructive, it is suffocating, limiting, and cruel.

Your Heroes in fiction are…

Don Quixote, Pip from Great Expectations, King Lear, Aurora Leigh, Christa Wolf’s Medea.

Priscila the writer….likes to write on trains and airplanes, read poetry in translation, obsessively underline books.

Priscila the person…likes to nap with her cats, lounge on Barbados beaches, and drink champagne cocktails.

 Displacement is a common theme running through the book at a subtle level. Where did that come from?

I think that many people feel displaced in their communities when people are not recognized for who they are, in all their complexity. Empathy comes from understanding, and understanding comes from the imagination, which is why the novel also highlights the creative aspects of the imagination as a solution to displacement, alienation, and despair.

 The need of Hardev to keep the family together is intense. What role does family play in your life?

As stated, for me family is a construct meant to cultivate support and freedom and help people realize their dreams. I consider my friends, my colleagues, my students, as part of my family.

Your favourite prose authors…

Miguel de Cervantes. Charles Dickens. Laurence Sterne. Christa Wolf. Virginia Woolf.

Your favourite poets…

John Donne. Gwendolyn MacEwen. Leonard Cohen. Yehuda Amichai. Anna Swir. Christian Bök. Christopher Doda.

 If not a writer, then?

A social worker.  A nun. A veterinarian. A B & B owner. A lounge singer.

 The book has been compared to King Lear. Was that in mind while writing the book?

I was about half-way through the first draft of the book when it struck me that To Whom was my contemporary version of King Lear. I know that some reviewers are a bit baffled by this assertion, since the plot does not follow the tradition tale of greed and betrayal on the surface of the original; however, in terms of the actual language of Lear and its metaphysical concerns, for me each line of my book is in dialogue with that play. But then again I think all stories originate from earlier stories. We just shift and adapt them to speak to our own historical and cultural place.

 My ten favourite books:

 1. Don Quixote (the ultimate dreamer, the battered and failed dreamer, pulls at my heart)

2. King Lear (old broken men pull at my heart)

3. Seeing Voices (this is my favourite Oliver Sacks book, his study of deaf culture—it’s a fascinating exploration of language)

4. Almost anything by Freud (even though I don’t necessarily agree with all his theories, I think he’s a brilliant prose stylist and one of the most imaginative thinkers in history).

5. Aurora Leigh (I love this long poem portrait of the artist as a young woman)

6. Medea (I think this is one of the best novels of the last 25 years—it encapsulates the horrors of 20th century political systems)

7. Yehuda Amichai poems (one of the great wisdom poets of the 20th century)

8. Czeslaw Milosz (another one of the great wisdom poets of the 20th century)

9. Great Expectations (this book, read for the first time in grade 8, made me want to be a writer; I wrote a play about Miss Havisham as my book report for the novel)

10. George F. Walker plays (he’s my favourite Canadian playwright and frequently pits characters who ascribe to different systems of thought against each other, each trying to establish their own rules of conduct and morality)

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