Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Grace Chia
By Yeow Kai Chai
Among the Singaporean writers of her generation, Grace Chia is unmistakable. Her poetic sensibility is sensual and unsettling, visceral and formally adventurous.
She is best known for a trifecta of poetry collections—her debut, womango (Rank Books, 1988), established her as an original voice; the follow-up, Cordelia (Ethos Books, 2012), which was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) in 2014, ventured into fantasy and mythology as crucibles for identity and gender interrogation; and Mother of All Questions (Math Paper Press, 2017) delved into childhood and matrilineal kinship.
Right from the start, Chia has put gender and self-affirmation under the microscope, often tapping on her own experience in her literary forays.
She spent 13 years outside Singapore in the 2000s, following her then-boyfriend and now-husband who worked for Cirque du Soleil across Europe, North America, Australia and Asia, before returning home to take up the inaugural Nanyang Technological University(NTU)-National Arts Council (NAC)'s writer-in-residence position.
Her journalistic observation has paid off in her creative prose. Her first novel, The Wanderlusters (Math Paper Press, 2016), is a sneak peek at life behind the curtains of a travelling circus community. Her short-story collection, Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food (Math Paper Press, 2016), is a globe-trotting romp about emigrants, culture shock and concepts of consumption.
Her second novel, The Arches of Gerrard Street (Penguin Random House, 2021), is a coming-of-age story of a Malaysian woman who investigates the unsolved murder of her childhood friend in London's Chinatown. Its germination began 17 years ago in London where Chia lived for six years. It is inspired by news reports on the 2003 shooting of a moneylender in Gerrard Street and the 2004 drowning of at least 23 illegal immigrants who were picking cockles in Morecambe Bay.
Aside from her own poetry and creative prose, Chia is the editor of the prose anthology, We R Family (Math Paper Press, 2016). Besides NTU, she had been writer-in-residence at University of Macau, Toji Cultural Centre and Seoul Art Space Yeonhui in South Korea. She taught creative writing at NTU and DigiPen (Singapore), and currently teaches at School Of The Arts Singapore (SOTA).
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, what would you be and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living writer and one dead writer you most identify with, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you most admire in a writer?
7. What is one trait you most deplore in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy or an action thriller to watch, which would you go for?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Compose a short-short story in three sentences that includes the following three items: contortionist, ticket stub, palimpsest.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you have a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. It's been 23 years since you burst onto the scene with womango in 1998. Your omnivorous and cross-disciplinary interests mean you have gone on to venture into short stories, novels, and occasional film reviews on social media. How do you think you have evolved as a writer, and what lessons, literary or otherwise, would you impart to an aspiring writer starting out in 2021?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?
QLRS Vol. 20 No. 4 Oct 2021