Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Peter Nazareth
By Yeow Kai Chai
Fiction/drama writer and critic Peter Nazareth said in a 2011 interview: "If I have to write in one category, I'll make sure to bring in something from somewhere else." Unsurprisingly, hybridisation is in his blood. He was born in Kampala, Uganda – his father was from Goa, India; his mother from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and his maternal grandfather was a professional classical musician. He was educated at Makerere University in Uganda and at the University of Leeds in Britain. He was senior finance officer in the Uganda government before he left in January 1973 to accept the Seymour Lustman Fellowship at Yale University.
Fiction/drama writer and critic Peter Nazareth said in a 2011 interview: "If I have to write in one category, I'll make sure to bring in something from somewhere else."
Unsurprisingly, hybridisation is in his blood. He was born in Kampala, Uganda – his father was from Goa, India; his mother from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and his maternal grandfather was a professional classical musician.
He was educated at Makerere University in Uganda and at the University of Leeds in Britain. He was senior finance officer in the Uganda government before he left in January 1973 to accept the Seymour Lustman Fellowship at Yale University.
His debut novel, In a Brown Mantle (1972), had prophesised the expulsion of Asians, and Idi Amin announced it just nine days after the book launch in Kampala.
Currently, he is Professor of English at the University of Iowa, where he also acts as Advisor to the International Writing Program.
Nazareth attracted substantial media attention in 1992 when he started teaching a class called Elvis as Anthology, which postulates the iconic singer as a cultural sponge who soaks up myriad influences. Publisher Goa 1556 will soon release his e-book called Elvis: Rewriting the World Through Multicultural Movies.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
Joseph Conrad. He was Polish but became an English classic. He wrote about the truth of colonialism and neo-colonialism in many parts of the world. He used strategies to deceive the supporters of western imperialism and get his work published. He demonstrates how power works.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
This is what the Loop Garoo Kid says to Bo Shmo and his neo-social realist gang in Ishmael Reed's Wild West novel, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down.
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
He sings songs with social meanings: 'The Joy of Living' (about the destruction of ecology by malls); 'Cities May Fall' (Kafka-esque dangers to humanity); 'Big Ship' and 'Everyman' (metaphysics); and 'My Kind of Life' (about pursuing one's dharma). He is prolific and versatile and keeps growing, constantly changing the styles of his big hits whenever he sings them.
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
My favourite word is "Yeah!"
12. Write a short-short story in three lines that include the following three characters: Elvis, clarinet player, Mary.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
Sasenarine Persaud, who is originally from Guyana. He has pursued his vision as a poet writing in the tradition of Yogic Realism. He creates poetry which has a basis in Hinduism and yet is multi-national and multicultural.
Jameela Siddiqi, from Uganda. She wrote The Feast of the Nine Virgins, a novel based on the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin. It's full of music and movies and great humour.
16. You have been an astute observer of Singapore literature for decades. Which Singapore books and/or authors have impressed you, and why? And what advice would you give to aspiring Singapore writers?
Edwin Thumboo's poem, 'Ulysses By the Merlion'. He uses his western education to appropriate a made-up creature and convert it into a myth that begins to unify a diverse people into a nation. Even when critics reject the Merlion, they keep referring to the poem.
Simon Tay's non-fiction book, Alien Asian, in which Tay references the American classic Walden by Thoreau, looking at America from a Singaporean's perspective.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?