20 questions with Richard Greene, poet and biographer born in St. John’s

ST. JOHN’S, NL – As a professor at the University of Toronto, Richard Greene likes to joke that his job is to shatter people’s dreams.

” I’m kidding. I teach creative writing and am known to be a bit soft to the touch, ”he says.

“You can get away with anything. Maybe I should be a little firmer.

But maybe not, as he says, a lot of people don’t find their voice as a writer until they are 50 or 60 years old.

“And then when they do, they’re wonderful,” he said. “This is especially true for a lot of women (who) are taken out of the workforce to care for children and they don’t get their chance. Then, as they get older, they say, “Damn, I’m doing that,” and you get a lot of great female writers appearing in their late 50s.



Greene, who was born in St. John’s and attended Memorial University, wrote “Boxing the Compass,” which won the Governor General’s Award for English-language Poetry in 2010.

He has written and published books of poetry as well as books of letters from famous authors since the 1990s.

“Granted, I learned to write by writing poetry, but I’ve always been a bit more of a reader of fiction than I even was of poetry,” he said. “(And) Graham Greene was a big favorite.”

Graham Greene was a journalist, author and frequent traveler who for a few years in the 1940s worked with MI6, the British intelligence agency.



While researching for another book he was working on, Richard contacted Graham Greene’s son.

“He was helping me and then he asked me to edit his father’s letters,” he said.

This culminated in the publication of “Graham Greene: A Life in Letters” in October 2008.

From there, he wrote a biography of Graham Greene titled “The Unquiet Gentleman” which was published on January 12, 2021.

“First of all, he’s a great storyteller,” he says. “He was also very insightful on things like religion, politics, human rights, that sort of thing. The other thing was his use of the language. … I found (his) way of writing very nice and I just bought into it.


20 questions

1. What is your full name?
Richard Thomas Greene.

2. Where and when were you born?
St. John’s in 1961.

3. Where do you live today?
Toronto.

4. What is your favorite place in the world?
The port of St. John’s or the city of Siena in Italy.

5. Who do you follow on social media?|
I am Sister Helen Prejean, (who wrote) “Dead Man Walking”, a lot of writers, news agencies and a lot of personal friends.



6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I don’t like parties. I go to a lot of them and behave well, but I don’t like parties. I’m like a hermit most of the time and then when I’m at a party you’d never know I’m apparently an extrovert.

7. What was your favorite year and why?
My first year of college. Going to MUN in 1978 was such a rich experience. Maybe the year after, too.

8. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
My doctoral thesis was really difficult to do because I was young and I didn’t know how to go about it. She was about, of all things, an 18th century kitchen poet (named Mary Leapor) in England and no one has ever heard of her. It was a very strange thing to do. Finally it worked, it was good, it was good. But basically, I didn’t know what I was doing.

He was a very poor person who wrote poetry when his boss was not looking. She didn’t live long, she died young and they published her work after her death. It was a satirical, very funny. (She wrote about) what it was like to be a poor working woman. A lot about the class, a lot about what it was like to be a woman in those days and to be a bit of a stranger. She had a tough journey, but she had an amazing sense of humor and it shows.

9. Can you describe a life changing experience?
When I was about 19. I was with the Jesuits for a year and a half. It was very important to me. I went to Guelph here in Ontario and they put us to work doing different things. They retired us, they sent us to work in the hospital, in a prison, I worked on a newspaper too. I decided that I shouldn’t stay forever. but I left with a very good taste in my mouth.

10. What is your biggest indulgence?
Cheap Scotch and artisanal wine.

11. What is your favorite movie or book?
“The Mission” (starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, and directed by Roland Joffé) is favorite movie and favorite book is “Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe. It’s a coming-of-age novel set in North Carolina.



12. How do you like to relax?
A huge part of my life is spent napping. I take long walks, then I lift my heels and fall asleep.

13. What are you reading or watching at the moment?
I have literally just finished Shelby Foote’s Civil War story (called “The Civil War: A Story”) A great, long three-volume series. He’s the guy who’s on every Ken Burns show, the southerner with the beard I watched last night on a detective show that I really liked. Michael Gambon, the British actor, played Chief Inspector Maigret, the French detective (in BBC’s “Maigret”).

14. What is your biggest fear?
Heights. I’m not good at heights.

15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
1958. My clothes are really crazy. I never knew how to dress well. If someone goes shopping with me and guides me, if my girlfriend guides me, I’m ready. If I am on my own, there will be embarrassment all around. The person I really trust for clothes is Derek at William L. Chafe and Sons. Once a year I go there and he looks at me and shakes his head and starts pointing at things.



16. What is your most precious possession?
An old sailor’s telescope that my great-grandfather used when he was a whaler. It has black leather on the outside and brass fittings. It still works perfectly well.

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful for in a parent?
They were both quite imaginative. My mom was very imaginative and I think that was a good thing.

18. Who are the three people who would join you for the dinner of your dreams?
I would have too much trouble with Graham Greene if I brought him in, so I should take him off the list. He would be mad at me. I told all his secrets. (But) maybe I should be brave and put him on the list and take my meds, right? American novelist Willa Cather and someone from a whole different world. Someone like Martin Luther King. I will face the music with Graham Greene.

19. What is your best quality and what is your worst quality?
I am patient but I am brash. My patience is great as long as it is there.

20. What is your biggest regret?
Not being able to sing like Frank Sinatra.

@AndrewLWaterman



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