Small Talk: Miriam Toews

Born in Manitoba, Canada in 1964, Miriam Toews grew up in a Mennonite community. Her first novel was The Summer of My Amazing Luck (1996), and in 2000 she published Swing Low: A Life, a non-fiction work on her father’s depression. Her 2004 breakthrough novel A Complicated Kindness, about a girl’s longing to escape from her Russian Mennonite village, won the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. Toews has published six books and in 2007 she appeared in the film Luz Silenciosa (Silent Light), by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. She lives in Toronto.

Who is your perfect reader?

Any lonely, intelligent, sensitive human being.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

It was something probably brewing in my brain since I was a kid – but it didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer until I finished journalism school.

How do you cure writer’s block?

I call upon the gods, I wait, I try to be patient. Sometimes I just copy something, a quote; just the act of putting pen to paper, fingers on a keyboard.

What do you snack on while you write?

My fingernails.

Who are your literary influences?

Alice Munro, David Markson, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

Wandering around the perimeter of a vile-smelling abattoir.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

The Meaning of Life by Terry Eagleton.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

The Collected Stories of Robert Walser.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, so I can let him know how profoundly disappointed I am in him.

When do you feel most free?

When I’m walking with nothing, no cell phone, no idea where I’m going, in a strange city.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

Don’t throw stones.

What book do you wish you’d written?

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley.

What are you scared of?


How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

Driving a taxi, definitely. There’s something about driving that’s similar to writing, I think.

Miriam Toews is author of ‘Irma Voth’ (Faber)

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