University of Calgary

Q&A with Sina Queyras

Sina Queyras, Markin-Flanagan Writer-in-Residence

Sina Queyras is the 2007–2008 Markin-Flanagan Canadian Writer-in-Residence. She is in residence at the U of C until June 15, 2008. To book an individual manuscript consultation with her, contact 220-8177 or


You’ve been conducting individual manuscript consultations with local writers as part of your residency. What’s the best writing advice you’ve been given?

Know your audience. This was a fascinating bit of advice because of course I had no idea who that might be and it really made me think of “the reader” or “a reader” and how they might encounter my work.

And the worst advice?

Know your audience. Like many things, if you pay too much attention to one aspect of your art it’s a bad thing. Once I started to imagine an audience I started to think of writing for a specific audience. That’s great for many kinds of writing—genre writing, TV writing—but at a certain point you have to leapfrog over what you think people want to hear and imagine where you need to go, and maybe create something no one saw coming. At least that’s what I’m interested in attempting to do.

Who are your influences?

My major influences are the Modernist masters—Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf. But I’ve always been influenced by many sources—Anne Carson, David Byrne, William Blake, Sappho, Margaret Atwood and so on. For a long time I was really attracted to writers whose work I just didn’t get—at all. I knew I liked it, but I couldn’t say why. It was very uncomfortable, but it was also very inspiring and made me grow as a person and as a writer.

What was the last book you read that really amazed you?

Great question. I love finding books that amaze me and it doesn’t happen enough. When I do, I am prone to carrying them with me for months at a time. The last book that had that effect on me would have to be Sonny, by Mary Burger. It’s a very disturbing and beautiful book set at the time of the atomic bomb testing in the U.S. I have to also mention U.K. conceptual poet Caroline Bergvall. I heard her read Shorter Chaucer Tales at Fordham University in Lincoln Center and that was an absolute wow. Unbelievable.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a lot of geological and historical texts to do with British Columbia and the development of roads and infrastructures, which is interesting, but not scintillating. I’ve been re-reading all of Beckett’s plays and some of the fiction too, as well as a biography of Beckett by Deirdre Bair. I had never read any biography of either Beckett or Joyce so that is guilty pleasure. I’m in the middle of: Julia Light’s book on Woolf and the Domestic; Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself; Lydia Davis’ Varieties of Disturbances. Finally there is a stack of recent publications by friends I am working through: The Silent Raga, by Ameen Merchant; The Outlander by Gil Adamson; and Erin Mouré’s translations of Chus Pato.

As someone who is new to the city, is Calgary what you expected it to be?

Calgary is more suburban than I expected it to be—way more spread out. Without a car I don’t really think I’m getting to know very much of it. But the people are as nice as I thought they would be, and as energetic as I’ve heard. There is a lot of interesting work going on—I’ve had some very cool visitors with manuscripts. There is a tremendous amount of creative energy here—which is also dispersed so you have to get out there and search for it. That’s fun. Challenging, but fun.