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Johanna Skibsrud

October 19, 2011

Johanna Skibsrud

Johanna Skibsrud is the author of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize winning novel, The Sentimentalists.  Her novel was originally produced by a small press in an edition of a few hundred, and went on to become one of the best-selling Canadian novels of the past year. With the release of her new collection of short fiction, This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories, Johanna is poised to claim her place as a major new voice is North American letters.

Not content to limit her artistic output to prose, Johanna also has two collections of poetry, Late Nights With Wild Cowboys and I Do Not Think That I Could Love A Human Being. Originally from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Johanna currently lives in Tucson, AZ where she is working toward the completion of her PhD in English Literature and on a second novel (2013).

1. What is your hometown?

Meadowville, Nova Scotia. Really more of a slight bend in the road with a collection of houses along it.

2. With what fictional character do you most identify?

Too many to list. Roslyn Taber from “The Misfits”, for one example. Charles Kinbote from Nabokov’s “Pale Fire”, for another.

3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.

Here, on the other hand, there’s only one possible answer: Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I wouldn’t trust anybody else.

4. What work of art speaks to your soul?

JMW Turner’s “Sunrise with Sea Monster,” Rothko’s “”Seagram Murals,” Rachel Whiteread’s “Water Tower.”

5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?

Currently reading: David Foster Wallace’s “Everything and More”, Tony Judt’s “Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945”. Recommending: Madeleine Thien’s “Dogs at the Perimeter”, Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Life of Poetry”.

6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?

I just got back from a trip to Norway with my mom. We drove around the Western fjords for five days listening to Edvard Grieg’s piano concertos on repeat. My personal, long-standing musical obsession, however, is with Lucinda Williams.

7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?

“Crazy Heart”. On the airplane home.

8. Cat person or dog person?


9. What is more important, truth or kindness?

The two are absolutely integral to one another–I don’t think it is possible to separate them; that it can be (and has indeed proved to be) extremely dangerous to try.

10. How do you define sin?

No longer being willing to ask the question, “How do you define sin?” Worse – imposing your own answer to this question on others.

11. How do you define virtue?

Remaining willing to ask the question, and open to its (necessarily) various and shifting replies.

12. Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?

When we were visiting the old graveyards in Norway recently I was struck by a common phrase on the old headstones: “Takk for alt.” It means “Thank you for everything” — “everything” intended here in a huge, sweeping sense that transcends the actual, individual life. I like that.

Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Madeleine Thien, author of “Dogs at the Perimeter”, which explores the Khmer Rouge genocide and is one of the best novels I have read this year.

Sheilah Wilson, contemporary artist and photographer, currently based in New Zealand. Her work is incredibly thoughtful, varied, and always interesting.

Johanna Skibsrud


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