Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Sarah Tsiang

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Sarah Tsiang has an MFA from UBC and she is also an award-winning poet who publishes poetry under the name of Yi-Mei Tsiang. Sarah’s book A Flock of Shoes (2010) was inspired by a line from the last poem in her collection, Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011). She is also the author of Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (2012). Her latest picture book, Stone Hatchlings, will be released in fall, 2012. Sarah lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario.

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The Proust Questionnaire, with Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang is Open Book: Toronto's April 2012 writer in residence. In her answers to The Proust Questionnaire, Sarah tells us her her dream of happiness, her idea of misery and more.

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.

Warriors and Wailers: One Hundred Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled

By Sarah Tsiang and illustrated by Martha Newbigging

From the publisher's website:

China was one of the most advanced societies in the ancient world. Whether in medicine, the arts, or education, the Chinese far outpaced the Europeans. Although most people were peasants, society included a myriad of other jobs.

Warriors and Wailers, the sixth book in Annick’s popular Jobs in History series, describes 100 professions that made up the fabric of Chinese society. They are listed under twelve categories, from imperial to illegal jobs, and including academic, religious, and peasant jobs.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 9,10,11 &12)

How in the world did April go by so quickly? I have to admit I was a little flummoxed at the beginning of this writer in residency by the number of posts I was supposed to put up. And now I feel like it's not enough! I've barely managed to squeeze in a dozen of my favorite Susans.

Dear readers, so you won't miss me terribly I've included the formidable Sue Chenette, Susan Briscoe, Susan Andrews Grace and Susan McMaster in this, my last posting.

I hope you've found my suggestions (steal stuff, eat KFC when depressed, refuse to teach your children to read, stalk a poet, read some Susans) will prove to be helpful in your own writing career.

And now, on to the main show:

Failure Pile

I’d like to talk about rejection today because I am a veritable expert on the subject. I’d wager that most writers are. Still, it’s not something that most of us talk about. I think we all harbour the fear that if we confess how much and how thoroughly our various manuscripts have been rejected, we’ll only manage to convince people that it’s being rejected for a good reason. Whenever someone gets an award or a publication they shout it out on Facebook, but we’re all a lot less likely to post about our private humiliations and rejection-fed insecurities.

Sending a manuscript out to the slush pile is a lonely proposition. When Sweet Devilry was being considered and variously rejected from just about every publishing house in Canada, I walked around hearing Patton Oswald’s voice in my head -- his routine about the Famous Bowl from KFC felt like my life -- I was a “failure pile in a sadness bowl”. (

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 8)

I can't think of Sue Goyette without getting goosebumps. To me, she's always in all-caps SUE GOYETTE THE GREAT and there are trumpets that announce her name. Sublime, subtle, and always so pitch perfect that I feel despair even as I am lost in admiration within her work, Sue Goyette is everything I have ever wanted in poetry. It's crazy that she should be nice and funny to boot.

1)What makes you so awesome?

No one would agree with me in this house, but I think my dance moves and my Ping-Pong skills are worth noting.

2) What inspires you to write when you’re feeling stuck?

That it’s all right to write badly. That it’s all right not to be brilliant. That it’s okay to feel like I know nothing.

3) What fascinates you?

Confessions of a sexist reader

For some reason I tend to read mainly women. I can name 15 Canadian Susan poets off the top of my head but I would stall out if you asked me to name, say, 3 Bobs. It’s awful. I don’t know why I’m so slanted in my reading habits but somehow or another I always find myself with a book by a female author in my hands. So today I’d like to highlight some great guys. You know they must be good because they’re practically the only guys I read.

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 7)

Today we have an interview with Susan Gillis,a fantastic poet who grips you at the first line and doesn't let you go until you've read the whole book through. I'm glad to finally find out the secret of what makes her so awesome.

1)What makes you so awesome?
I'm secretly a Cubist portrait of myself.

Don't Teach Your Kids To Read

I have actively avoided teaching my daughter how to read. She’s an extremely independent soul to begin with, and I hate the thought of our shared reading time ending. She already holes up with a book and pores over the pictures with her door closed. I fear for the time when she pushes me out her room completely saying “I can read it myself! Sheesh.”

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 5 & 6) or why you should floss

Today I’d like to introduce you to two Susans (actually, a Susan and a Sioux) who are both incredibly talented poets better known for their work in other genres. Susan Olding is best known for her non-fiction work which, not surprisingly, resonates with poetic beauty, and Sioux Browning is a prolific and incredibly talented screen writer who also happens to be a closet poet.

Be Full Of Others, Part Two

In part one of “Be Full Of Others” I talked about how lucky I have been to have fallen into a great, supportive community of writers. Now I’d like to talk about ways to generate and promote your own community of writers.

Community is formed by being full of others. In every act, celebrate and promote the writers you love. Rejoice when you find a new talent that eclipses your own. When I came to Kingston I put up some posters at the library advertising a poetry circle. The idea was to have a small diverse group, open to writers of any level. In truth (and oh, my ego, I’m ashamed to admit it) I thought of the writing group as my kind of community service. I thought that maybe I could give back some of what Sheri Benning and other writers have given to me.

Be Full Of Others, Part One

I wish the myth of the solitary, talented writer were true. After all, if it were then I could be the romantic figure who got published because of my shining, overwhelming genius. In truth though, I owe everything to the parade of writers who have supported me from first draft to finished product (of shining, overwhelming genius of course).

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 3 & 4)

As some of you may have suspected I am a dedicated Susanphile. So much so, that I’m currently in the midst of editing a new anthology: Desperately Seeking Susans, which will only contain Canadians named Susan (or reasonable variant thereof). As much as I loved Susans, before I began editing the anthology, my knowledge of Canadian poets named Susan wasn’t exhaustive. Among the Susans I discovered in the process of my research were Susan Ioannou and Susan Telfer. Susan Ioannou is a wonderfully talented and prodigious Susan who already has many books, while Susan Telfer is a relatively new voice whose beautiful first book House Beneath was published in 2009.

Stalk a Poet

Have you ever read a book where you felt like the author was speaking directly to you? That they somehow gazed into your soul and managed to translate it into a heart wrenchingly eloquent book? I feel a ridiculously personal connection to authors I’ve never met but am secretly convinced that I know them by their work.

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 2)

It's my birthday today, and in celebration I'm going to open up a beer and get out one of my beloved Susan Glickman books. You, dear reader, are welcome to get a beer as well and we'll distance read together. Don't forget to sigh in bliss at the brilliance that is Susan Glickman. And I believe Newcastle is the recommended beer pairing to a classic Glickman.

1)What makes you so awesome?
Animals are not afraid of me. Strange cats follow me down the street to rub against my legs. A cow once crossed an English meadow to lick my hand. I have fed grapefruit to a pair of hyrax in the Israeli desert and whole wheat toast to a Grey Jay in the Kawarthas.

2) What inspires you to write when you’re feeling stuck?

Rip Someone Off Today!

So, my email account was just hacked and I’ve apparently sent a cryptic note about an “interesting link” to everyone I know, including media, publishers, family, co-workers, and just about everyone else under the sun. Which got me to thinking of the matter of “voice” in writing.

Many of my friends, thankfully, realized that the email really didn’t sound like me. Sure, I enjoy shilling viagra as much as the next guy (and I have money in a Nigerian account, if someone would just transfer it for me) but other than that it just didn’t sound like me.

Susan, a lesson in awesomeness (part 1)

Whenever someone asks me who they should read, I ask them if they’ve read a Susan lately. There are so many wonderful poets named Susan in Canada that it borders on the ridiculous. Which, of course, delights me.

Get your exercise

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting started. Much like cleaning the house, it can seem an insurmountable task until you actually get begin (I assume. I’m in the midst of cleaner’s block right now).

Learning to call it play

I’ve been doing a lot of school readings lately and one of the most delightful aspects of school readings is the questions that follow. Most recently, a little voice piped up, “is it exhausting to be an author?” I had to laugh, because a lot of things are exhausting to me -- getting groceries, checking my email, forcing myself to go running with my very keen running partner -- but writing is not exhausting because it is so close to play.

I tend to think of my writing time as split into two. There is the at the computer, typing and thinking time (of which I can’t do more than a couple of hours a day -- if I could ever get a couple of hours a day) and there is the other writing time, which is more commonly known as play.

Learning to call it work

The other day I called my six year old daughter to dinner with the words “okay, enough play, it’s time to eat”. She put down her marker, gave me a withering look and corrected me in a tone that was eerily familiar, “I’m not playing, mom, I’m working.”

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: Toronto.