ISSUE 1 VOL 1 PROFILE: Priscila Uppal

fiction //
The Lilies

HLR: Where do you write? 

Anywhere and everywhere. I have to be flexible about my writing because my teaching, reading, lecturing, research, and travel schedules change all the time. I must be able to write in hotels, in waiting rooms, on planes and trains, at my desk, at the beach—wherever I can find a spare hour.

HLR: What kinds of genres do you write in? What is the experience like of genre-switching in your writing? 

I write in many genres and am always eager to try more. I write poetry, short stories, novels, essays, plays, memoir, creative non-fiction, and more. I would like to write for opera and for the screen next.

I find the cross-pollination fascinating, and for me it leads to creative renewal. I would never want to write in only one genre—that would be like having only one life and I’m more like a cat who wants at least nine lives.

HLR: How does your scholarly work affect your writing? 

My scholarly work and my creative work complement each other. I am frequently interested in the same topics of subjects, but approach them from different angles or different intellectual or creative points of view. My analytical side, the side that is essentially Aristotelian, finds satisfaction in scholarly work. My Dionysian side, from the creative.

HLR: What are you reading these days? 

Right now, I am reading a biography of the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. I am reading plays by Russians. I am reading poetry by authors from the Caribbean. I am reading short stories by Etgar Keret.

HLR: How does the Internet and your presence on the Internet affect your thinking and writing? 

The Internet has affected my writing in that there are now features and blogs and interviews like this one all over cyberspace. As a writer, you are asked to participate in many online ventures and showcases.  

The Internet has also affected how quickly and easily it is to contact an author. Recently, I’ve been receiving daily emails from readers of Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother or those who have also gone to see my play 6 Essential Questions. There are a lot of people out there who have experienced difficult and complex relationships with their mothers and they want to reach out to me to tell me about their own lives. This is something that is very satisfying for an author, but also a little overwhelming too.

HLR: Do you speak other languages? 

I can read and speak French (although I am rusty). I have translated some poetry from Old English to modern English and from Brazilian Portuguese to English, but I have needed assistance from others. I think the act of translation is a very creative one, and this activity opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities for writing in your dominant language. My students produce one translation assignment every year in my poetry class at York University. At first they are understandably intimidated, but nearly every student is eventually grateful for the experience, and many continue to work on translations afterwards as well.

HLR: Do you think there is a kind of writing that is popular with your peers? 

I think that Canadian writing is very diverse; however, I do think that when the average person or reader thinks about Canadian writing, he/she might have a very narrow view of what that means. I am frequently told I write more like a European than like a Canadian, but I’m not sure what that means. I know I am influenced by world literature, but I also have a PhD in English and one of my specialties is Canadian Literature. I feel free to draw from all my readings and other experiences, which is probably why my work is very difficult to characterize. I find that exciting. Others sometimes find it unnerving. 

Priscila Uppal is a Toronto poet, fiction writer and York University professor. Among her publications are nine collections of poetry, most recently, Ontological Necessities (2006; shortlisted for the $50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize), Successful Tragedies: Poems 1998-2010 (Bloodaxe Books, U.K.) and Summer Sport: Poems; and the novels The Divine Economy of Salvation and To Whom It May Concern. Her work has been published internationally and translated into several languages. She was the first-ever poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes Now during the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. Her recent memoir, Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers Trust Prize and the Governor General’s awards for Non-Fiction. Six Essential Questions, her play based on the memoir, will have its World Premiere at the Factory Theatre in March 2014. Time Out London dubbed her “Canada’s coolest poet.”