Five Questions with… Jay Ruzesky

Ruzesky, Jay (c) Scott Ruzesky (cropped)Adventurer and In Antarctica author Jay Ruzesky answered our five questions.

IFOA: You’ve been interested in Roald Amundsen’s adventures since boyhood. How did you originally stumble upon his stories?

Ruzesky: I am an Amundsen through maternal lines, and he is our family’s claim to fame. He visited my mother’s farm and gave my great grandfather a compass which my mom used for show and tell in school, so I was probably imagining his adventures before most kids hear about Peter Pan.

IFOA: What’s one thing you and Amundsen have in common, and one way in which you are different?

Ruzesky: We have in common a feeling of belonging in the polar regions. I don’t know what it says about me that I felt at home in Antarctica (a place as geographically hostile to humans as you can get), but I did. A difference is that I am nowhere near as tough as he was. He skied into -50 degree winds for days in a row, and, with his crew, hauled tons of supplies up a glacier to the Antarctic plateau. I wouldn’t have the endurance.

IFOA: What’s your favourite thing about travelling by water?

Ruzesky: Maybe it’s the mariner’s genes I have—I don’t get seasick even in rough water. No doubt that was an advantage in Antarctica.

IFOA: Who is your favourite poet?

Ruzesky: Depends on the hour and the day: Sharon Olds, P.K. Page, Michael Ondaatje, Don Coles, and bp Nichol.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: Next time I’ll bring…

Ruzesky: I’ll bring a good portable audio recorder. I didn’t want to see Antarctica only through a lens, so I thought long and hard about it and then left my film equipment at home. I brought a small digital camera and got some quite good photos with that. What I had not thought enough about is what a powerful aural landscape Antarctica is. There are no planes flying overhead, no trucks on a far highway. There is only the sound of a whale spout way in the distance—like someone catching their breath; or the noise of 20,000 chinstrap penguins raising a flap. Those are sounds I wish I would have been able to record.

Ruzesky will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Ben McNally Travellers Series on March 13.

Five Questions with… Matthew Goodman

Goodman, Matthew (cropped)Matthew Goodman, author of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, answered our five questions.

IFOA: How did you first encounter Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, and what made you want to tell their story?

Goodman: I knew the name Nellie Bly because of the old “Nellie Bly Amusement Park” near my home in Brooklyn, New York, but I didn’t know much about her or why she was important. Then one day I stumbled across a brief reference to her race around the world in 1889; I thought it was remarkable that a young woman (she was only 25), unaccompanied and carrying only a single bag, would be daring enough to try to do such a thing in the Victorian era. Then I discovered that Bly was in fact competing against another young female journalist, Elizabeth Bisland. I was captivated by the notion of these two young women racing each other around the world—one traveling east, the other west.

IFOA: Is there anything you learned from these pioneering journalists that you’ve been able to apply to your own career?

Goodman: These women were very different from each other, but each was fascinating and complicated in her own right. Nellie Bly was scrappy, hard-driving, funny, socially conscious; Bisland was erudite, literary, charming, quietly courageous. Each one was a writer’s dream subject, and from them I tried to learn, as best I could, how to make a real-life character come alive on the page—and I’m very grateful to them for that.

Goodman, Eighty DaysIFOA: What’s the longest journey you’ve ever taken?

Goodman: Many years ago I was fortunate enough to take a weeks-long trip to China, visiting Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. Coming back, we flew from Beijing to San Francisco on China Air. In those days, at least on China Air, you could still smoke in the plane—and it seemed that just about everybody on board was a smoker. We flew over the Pacific Ocean in a thick blue haze. That was the longest journey I’ve ever taken.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with one writer, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Goodman: This guy wasn’t a writer so much as a newspaper publisher (though he did write many of his paper’s editorials), but my research for Eighty Days leads me to believe that Joseph Pulitzer would have been a fascinating lunch companion. He adored the works of George Eliot, read widely in politics and history, loved music and the arts, and could recite long passages of his favorite works from memory. One of his biographers described how “his talk poured forth seamlessly, moving with ease from a discourse on philosophy to the merits of a particular piano virtuoso to an analysis of local politics.” Plus he had a yacht.

IFOA: We hear this will be your first visit to Toronto. What are you most looking forward to? (Besides your event, of course!)

Goodman: A peameal bacon sandwich at the St. Lawrence Market!

Goodman will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Ben McNally Travellers Series on March 13.

Five Questions with… Iain Reid


Iain Reid, author of the comic memoir The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on My Road Trip with Grandma, answered our five questions.

IFOA: What inspired you to write about your grandmother?

Reid: I’m not entirely sure what inspired me but I think it had to do with her impressive age and demeanor. She’s lived through so many eras, and changes, that are all just part of history for me; to her they’re strands of her life. I’m interested in how perspectives shift and stay consistent over the course of (nearly) a century of experience. We had a lot of long discussions on our trip, on a variety of topics. Both her long life and the way she still lives inspired me.

IFOA: Like One Bird’s Choice, The Truth About Luck is a memoir with you at its centre. How is this Iain Reid different than the Iain Reid we encountered in your first book?

Reid: Well, I’m definitely older. How else I’ve changed is a little harder to know. I’ve moved away from the farm. I live in a different city. I probably spend more time writing now. I cook more the last few years. I don’t feel tremendously different though, just a little older.

IFOA: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Reid: The History of Iceland by Dr. Gudni T. Johannesson.

IFOA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Reid: Probably finishing grad school. Study interests me. But maybe something completely different. My great-grandfather was a baker and I think I’d enjoy that. Like most jobs, I’m sure it would be more taxing and stressful than the excessively placid image I’ve built in my head. But it would smell great all day and I could wear really comfortable clothes.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It works better if you…

Reid: …go for a walk first.

Reid will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Ben McNally Travellers Series on March 13.

Five Questions with… Andrew Pyper

Pyper, AndrewAndrew Pyper will share his new book, The Demonologist, at the Gladstone Hotel on March 4. He took a few minutes to tell us about demons, Venice and his childhood tales.

IFOA: Your latest book has been described as scary, terrifying and thrilling. What scares, terrifies and thrills you?

Pyper: I’m terrified by anything that might harm those closest to me, my children, specifically. I’m thrilled by doing what I do for a living: making up stories that surprise myself. And I’m still a little scared of the dark.

IFOA: Why did you decide to set The Demonologist in Italy?

Pyper: The section of the novel set in Venice had to be set in Venice for a number of reasons. First, without giving too much away, the canals and water were necessary to the staging of an important scene. Second, Venice’s beauty and art—as well as its history of corruption and violence—was precisely the thematic marriage the book required. Finally, Venice has a long relationship with the demonic. The devil literally made me do it.

IFOA: Did you write as a child, and if so, what did you write?

Pyper: I’ve written stories for as long as I’ve been able to spell. Back then, I favoured the action-packed, the suspenseful, the shocker ending. Not much has changed really.

IFOA: Tell us about one book you read that changed your life.

Pyper: Every book has left its mark, even the bad ones (especially the bad ones?). But likely the most influential book to my own writing was Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. It’s a literary ghost story where the reader is never quite sure if the ghosts are “real” or whether the narrator is unreliable to the point of psychosis. I loved walking that razor’s edge of undecidability, the uncertainty of perspective. It’s also deeply unsettling and ambiguous and nightmare-making—effects I like to have a go at pulling off.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I always forget to…

Pyper: …get milk on the way home.

Andrew Pyper will read from The Demonologist at the the Gladstone Hotel on March 4, followed by an interview with the Globe and Mail‘s Russell Smith.

Five Questions with… Dwayne Morgan

Morgan, DwayneDwayne Morgan, spoken word artist and social entrepreneur, will launch his new book Everyday Excellence at Authors at Harbourfront Centre on February 1. He took some time to tell us about the book, why he loves Oprah and his childhood shyness.

IFOA: Why did you decide to publish this book now?

Morgan: 2013 marks the 20th year of my career. Over the past two decades, my work has brought me many experiences that I would have never imagined. Ten years ago, I started sharing the things that I had learned over the course of my career with high school students across the country. I wanted them to see me as an example of someone starting young, and living life on their own terms. After publishing six books of poetry, I wanted to commemorate the 20-year anniversary by looking back at my career and some of the defining experiences that have made me the artist and person that I am.

IFOA: You describe yourself as an introvert. When and how did you know you were also a performer?

Morgan: Most people who see me on stage are amazed by how different I am off stage. It is always my preference to be at the back of the room observing than socializing and interacting with people. In high school, I would do skits, and later poems, in school assemblies. Many of my friends had talent, and I wanted to fit in, so I did what I could. Even then, I had no idea that my life would be what it is today. By the time I had graduated from high school, I had already started my production company Up From The Roots, and not wanting to be shown up by any of the other artists in my events, I ensured that I performed in every show. Over time it started to feel more normal, though even today when I get off the stage I begin the countdown to when the the lights go off and the people leave—so I can exhale.

IFOA: Who is your hero?

Morgan: I would say that Oprah is one of my main heroes. When you look at her childhood and upbringing, you wouldn’t figure that someone with so much against them would end up becoming the woman that she is today. I grew up as a shy, black kid from Scarborough who somehow found poetry. No one who knew me as a child would ever figure that my life would involve standing and speaking in front of people, but somehow I ended up on posters in Budapest, and in German clubs. Like Oprah, I feel as though I’ve defied the odds.

IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Morgan: My perfect day would include Jamaica, a beach chair, and an alcoholic beverage, but since writing that has already made me depressed, I’d say that the perfect day is any day I spend with my daughter, doing whatever her imagination cooks up! She’s currently five, going on 50, so her imagination is in overdrive and I am constantly trying to keep up physically and mentally.

Morgan, Everyday ExcellenceIFOA: What do you hope people will take away from Everyday Excellence?

Morgan: This is the first of my books where I pre-released a copy of the book prior to the official launch, because I wanted to get people’s feedback on it, and I must say that the feedback I’ve received has been absolutely amazing. The greatest hope is that people identify with the book and realize the power that we have to shape our lives. When I speak with young people, I always say, if I have achieved what I have with something as boring as poetry, just imagine what you can achieve with the gifts and talents that you have.

For details on Morgan’s free February 1 event, visit For more about Morgan, check out his website.

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