Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Weston Words, with Douglas Coupland

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Douglas Coupland

The Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction will be awarded tonight in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. One of the five shortlisted authors will walk out with the prestigious $60,000 prize while Toronto publishers and book lovers gather to celebrate the power of non-fiction.

Over the past two weeks, we've had the chance to speak to all five finalists, and today we wrap up our Weston Words series by talking to the final shortlisted author, Douglas Coupland. There are few Canadian writers more well-known and widely read than Coupland. From his best-selling novels, including the groundbreaking Generation X, to his acclaimed non-fiction, he has written over 20 books.

He is shortlisted for Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent (Random House Canada), which the jury called "A book about the world we live in and the world that is coming... the light, optimistic tone masks two disquieting observations: the end of an era of computing progress and the power of the virtual world to reshape our real, physical world and ourselves. Highly entertaining, but also unnerving."

Today we speak to Douglas about where the idea for Kitten Clone came from, defining a new century and Andy Warhol as a blogger.

Open Book:

How did your nominated book begin for you? What drew you to your subject matter?

Douglas Coupland:

Alain de Botton emailed out of the blue and asked if I’d be part of a series of books he was doing in which writers were dropped into places people might not normally think of as places, and then write about that experience. He did a book called A Week at the Airport about Heathrow in London. I’d read it and liked it very much, so it wasn’t a hard sell for me.

First I had to think of a place to go into. I wanted to do American Idol behind the scenes but its parent company, Fremantle, said flat out no. I remember being in St. John’s ten years ago for a Terry Fox event, and we had to meet someone at the big hotel there. There’d just been auditions for Canadian Idol and I saw some of the things contestants had left behind in the auditorium before the cleaning staff arrived: dental retainers. Homework. Crushed dreams. In the end I went with Alcatel-Lucent (now Nokia) because I was in Dubai and looked at the hotel room phone which was made by Alcatel-Lucent, and it kind of creeped me out, how invisible and tentacular Alcatel-Lucent is. I went online and looked up the phone model and got a massive 64-page pdf detailing every aspect of the phone and I realized I was in a new century and Alcatel-Lucent would be a good place to begin defining this new century.


Where were you when you received news of your nomination?


A generic online morning like any other.

I was happy a few more people would maybe read the book. It was such a labour of love and it’s so packed with ideas. When the proposed series imploded, the book was suddenly orphaned and it never received the eyeballs it deserved.


What unique experience or benefit does non-fiction provide for readers?


It will take them places they never even knew were places, and they’ll think about the future in a possibly optimistic new way. Imagine you’re in a room with terrible lighting, and someone flips the correct switch and suddenly you say, “Wow, what a great room!”


Tell us about a favourite non-fiction book.


The Diaries of Andy Warhol. It was a blog decades before blogs existed.


What can you tell us about your next project?


I have some museum shows in 2016 so I’m having to make a lot of new work. But I’m also trying to figure out a new way of looking at writing which has a direct relationship with visual work. For example, at the show at the ROM in January, we pulled text experiments out from my books over the past two decades and framed them, and it was mind blowing seeing something going from a book and onto a wall.

Douglas Coupland is a writer, designer, and visual artist. He has published more than 20 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated CultureGeneration A, which was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His first solo exhibition opened last year at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Coupland lives in Vancouver.

The Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction was founded by former Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Hilary Weston and carries a $60,000 purse for the winner. The prize honours the finest Canadian non-fiction published each year. The award succeeds the previous Writers' Trust Nonfiction Award, which was founded in 1997.

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