Ms.Botha & Mr.Proust!
Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to Toronto in her teens. She studied Creative Writing at York University and at Humber College for Writers. Her first book, an acclaimed collection of short stories, called Got No Secrets, was published in May 2010 by Tightrope Books Her fiction has appeared on Joyland.ca, The Fix, Trailer Park Quarterly and Numero Cinq Magazine. Her articles have appeared in the National Post and Broken Pencil, among others. Her second book, a novel called Too Much on the Inside, will be published in September 2012. She recently completed her third book, a collection of short stories and poetry called For All the Men and Some of the Women I've Known, and is currently working on her first graphic novel.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Personal unhappiness, and the inability to see one’s way out of it. I think back to the times that have been hardest for me, and I think that it was in part at least, a problem of perception, and an inability to recognize how my choices affected my reality. Being unable to take responsibility for, or feel in control of my own life. Feeling helpless and victim like, or anxious and paralyzed. Not being able to find any hope or inner resolve to change my circumstances.
Where would you like to live?
For me, the best place to live is with my boyfriend, near to my family and close friends. I mean, I love nature, I love oceans and lakes, forests and hills, and greenery, not to mention animals and wildlife- so living in a city is sometimes hard. On the other hand, I love graffiti, the convenience of living downtown, the arts and cultural scene, multi -cultural restaurants and stores, and professional opportunities you naturally get in a bigger place. In a way, it’s all just scenery to me- the people I love are the reasons a place feels like home to me.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Being in love, and staying in love with, and being loved by my partner, always. Getting married and having kids someday. Being able to write, and teach writing. Having a writing career that continues to grow until I don’t have to do anything except write, do readings and interviews, but mainly, just write and edit. The health and happiness of everyone I love.
To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
I talk too fast. I can’t eliminate sugar or dairy from my diet no matter how hard I try. Nutella, Mac and Cheese and ice cream are impossible for me to get rid of. You know the Bukowski poem the Ice Cream People? I spend hours on the internet researching things that are only vaguely connected to what I actually want to write about. But mostly, I buy and read too many books. Last I counted, I owned over three thousand books. Lately, I’m getting into buying first editions. It’s fantastic, if not exactly economically sound.
Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye was the first character I could entirely relate to- his emotions were so close to the surface, his dialogue and internal monologue so visceral. There’s a scene in a movie theatre where he describes a mom and her kid. The kid needs the bathroom, and the mom snaps at him because she’s concentrating on the movie. It’s such a tiny moment, but his sensitivity to neglect is amazing. The scenes where he talks about his late brother Alli too always broke my heart. I also found him to be incredibly wry and relatable and funny. Joel Hynes character, Keith Kavanagh in Down to the Dirt. I read it a couple of years ago and was struck by how incredibly likeable Keith was, and how funny and witty. Chad Pelley’s Owen in Away from Everywhere is amazing. It’s impossible as the reader to have anything but sympathy and empathy for him- he’s beautifully real, complex and human. Tsepho in K Sello Duiker’s the Quiet Violence of Dreams. One of my favorite things about the way he wrote was that his characters were always desperately, fearlessly searching, going to the brink of their sanity to find some kind of peace- and taking you with them. I also really, really love Hanif Kureishi’s writing. It’s hard to pick one, but if I had to… maybe Jamal Khan in Something to Talk About. Jamal, or Gabriel (and his dad) in Gabriel’s Gift.
Who are your favorite characters in history?
It seems obvious to say this as a South African, but Nelson Mandela was incredible. His calmness and stoicism, his ability to be at peace instead of murderously angry and vengeful on his release from jail in 1994 is nothing short of amazing. I admire all of the early feminists, especially the suffragists for example, who lived in a time when that sort of rebellion was certainly not socially accepted.
Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
My late grandmother was amazing. I’m thinking of her a lot these days because I’m a writing a graphic novel, called The World is Dead and I’m Full of Joy- about the Israeli Palestinian situation, and she was many generations Israeli, from Tiberius. She was a remarkable woman whose life was colorful and interesting. She was strong and brave- she grew up in a war torn country, moved to South Africa, worked and supported a family at a time when it wasn’t done. She was also incredibly generous and kind. My mom is really unique and comfortable in her individuality. I was raised with a non -conformist mentality that I’m really grateful for as a writer. Lynn Crosbie has had an incredible career. She’s published an amazing body of work – all stunning, thought provoking and brave. I really admire her fearlessness in addressing any subject. She’s also an amazingly generous person who has been exceptionally kind to me. Rene Bohnen, the Afrikaans poet, has been wonderful to me too. Her writing speaks to the deepest place in my soul. She’s also very approachable and supportive. She even edited the Afrikaans poems that will appear in my next book. She’s an amazing writer and person. Antjie Krog has had an amazing career too- really long and varied. I would love to try writing in all the different styles and subject matters that she’s been involved in. Heather O’Neill is like the ultimate punk rock writer. She seems to do whatever she wants, when she wants to, and she’s phenomenally talented. I really respect the way she seems to approach things. Zoe Whittall seems to do things on her own terms too. I love all of her work- her fiction and her poetry a lot.
Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
I love Franny Glass of Franny and Zooey. I read it in my early twenties, and could totally relate to her who am I, what am I doing with my life, who am if not who I thought I was, crisis. I remember exactly how I felt when I read it. When she says: “I wish I had the courage to be an absolute nobody” I practically jumped up and down on my couch in enthusiastic agreement. I really love Baby in Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals. She profoundly broke my heart with her miss of naiveté and street savvy, and the simplicity of her desires. I also love Chloe in her story I Know Angelo. Most recently I have completely fallen in love with three of Jennifer Egan’s characters: Sasha in a Visit from the Goon Squad, and Phoebe and Faith in The Invisible Circus. She’s remarkably skilled at writing complex, fascinating and believable women. I also love Jarvis Miller in Jamie Attenberg’s The Kept Man. Jarvis felt like a real person to me, someone interesting and honest that I’d love to meet and hang out with. Everything about her, from who she was before, and the descriptions of her life, to her devotion as a wife, to the frozen state her life was in- was completely believable. Idiosyncratic, brave and funny Benny in Lisa de Nikolit’s West of Wawa is another character that I wish really existed. I really love her too.
Your favorite painter?
I love Matisse, Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Marcel Du Champ. I love Picasso- I recently got to see the Picasso museum in Barcelona and I was blown away by his progression as an artist. I also love Goya, Bosch, Bruegel- and I got to see all of their work at the Prado in Madrid. I almost moved in there. I love the graffiti artist Lady Pink. I love Banksy. I love Keith Harring and Jean Michel Basquiat. I love Jackson Pollock. Lucien Freud’s portraits are amazing. Yael Bronner Rubin is one of the most imaginative and talented contemporary painters and photographers I’ve seen in a long time.
Your favorite musician?
Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer, Chris Chameleon, the guys in the Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes.
The quality you most admire in a man?
Openheartedness- the ability to love and respect others and sensitivity.
The quality you most admire in a woman?
Confidence - the ability to be oneself - to be honest about who that is, and to be comfortable and happy in one’s own skin. To be able to really love oneself - way too many women are too critical of themselves, and it makes me sad. Every woman should feel beautiful and powerful, always.
Your favorite virtue?
Honesty and compassion.
Your favorite occupation?
Being a writer, seriously. I have never wanted to do, or be anything else. Being a girlfriend, a wife and mom someday. I like teaching a lot too.
Who would you have liked to be?A lot of my favorite artists had troubled lives, which makes this question difficult to answer. I would have loved, for an afternoon, say, to know what it was like to be Jeff Buckley or Johannes Kerkorrel, Jean Michel Basquiat, Jim Carroll, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, JD Salinger, ee Cummings, Amy Winehouse, Etta James or Whitney Houston. I would love, right now, to live in Aimee Bender’s head for a day, to find out how she comes up with her incredible magic realist characters and plot. Or Darren Aronfosky - I’d love to know how he comes up with film ideas- does he dream them? Does he know how things will look when he writes his screenplays? Artists are fascinating, and I’d love to temporarily be any of the ones I admire