Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Amanda Michalopoulou

By Clara Chow, published at QLRS Vol. 18, on 4 Oct 2019

Acclaimed Greek writer Amanda Michalopoulou came to national attention with her first novel, Wishbone (1996), which won the Diavazo Award. The bestselling novel, structured like a cookbook, comprises two competing narratives by siblings about their family. At times, the story is told from the ingredients’ points of view.

Since then, she has published seven other novels, three short story collections, and a successful children’s book series. Her latest title is Baroque (2018), a work of auto-fiction which tells a 50-year-old character’s life story in reverse. An English translation of her 2014 novel, God’s Wife, will be published by Dalkey Archive Press in December.

The American translation of her collection of short stories, I’d Like(2008), won the International Literature Prize from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was also nominated by the University of Rochester for an award for Best Translated Book. Her stories have appeared in the likes of Harvard Review, Guernica, Asymptote and The Guardian.

She has been widely translated, and is currently participating in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She holds a degree in French Literature from Athens University, and was a journalist for Greek newspapers.

1) What are you reading right now?
At the moment, directions for use of a dry shampoo – “shake can like nobody’s watching,” et cetera.

Also, Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson, and Neruda poems. I love to read poetry at night. It opens the mind for dreaming.

2) If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, what would you be and why?
Right now? I would be the crow babysitter in Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers: “Krickle krackle, hop sniff and tackle, in with the bins, singing the hymns.”

In happier moments, I would be one of the two butterflies that rested on a beam, in the Emily Dickinson poem, ‘Two butterflies went out at Noon –.’

3) What is the greatest misconception about you?
That I am humourless.

4) Name one living writer and one dead writer you most identify with, and tell us why.
Edna O’Brien, because this is how I would love to write and live.

From the dead ones, I would choose Clarice Lispector, because this is how I am when I dream.

5) Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I am in the middle of one right now. I don’t overcome it, I go through it with Yoga With Adriene (a YouTube video series by American yogi-actress-entrepreneur Adriene Mishler, who has special asanas for writers), dancing alone, and reading poetry.

6) What qualities do you most admire in a writer?
Sincerity, audacity and perseverance.

7) What is one trait you most deplore in writing or writers?
Sentimentality.

8) Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
A book should be read easily and written with difficulty. Not written easily and read with difficulty. This is by Nikos Kachtitsis, a Greek novelist.

9) Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
…am afraid of animals.

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?
I would go for a comedy. I admire people who negotiate serious matters seriously with humour. Also I am going through tough times in real life and I need to laugh at failures, clumsiness, and a lack of control; which is what life is really about.

11) What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
I would say, in English, “serendipity” (my favourite), and “sacrifice” (least favourite).

Greek words: I hate “ladia” (stress on the last ‘a’), which means that the sea is calm. I love “osmosis” and “diafano”, which means transparent.

12) Write a short-short story in three sentences that include the following three items: funicular, omakase, speakeasy.
She asked me if I want to join her in a speakeasy, somewhere in Athens. They served us omakase dressed with vodka and decorated with chopped sleeping tablets. All night long we believed we were two pigs at a funicular going to the moon.

13) What object is indispensable to you when you write?
My two hands.

14) What is the best time of the day for writing?
Mornings, between 9 and 12.

15) If you have a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
The Greek writer Margarita Karapanou with her protagonist Kassandra (from Kassandra and the Wolf) and the title character from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Virginia could also join if she promised not to carry stones in her pockets.

16) How do you negotiate creative fiction and journalism? What does truth mean to you?
At first, I was a reporter for the arts. But, after 1996, I was exclusively a columnist, which meant I wrote about anything I felt like. And lately I write longer travel pieces. Truth means negotiation of the thin lines between facts, and feelings about the facts. And that you are brave enough to bear the consequences of your sincerity.

17) What would you write on your own tombstone?
Everything begins again.