In a Reality TV Show Kind of Way: A Brief Interview with Benjamin Willems
Benjamin Willems’s ‘I dream of my standalone Quiznos’ placed second in EVENT’s 2013 Non-Fiction Contest and is featured in our current issue (42/3). The piece is an exploration of the stark and monotonous reality of working at a fast-food joint—and not just at any fast-food joint, but at a Quiznos just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Quiznos he worked at as a teenager, years earlier. EVENT contacted him in Victoria, BC, where he is finishing a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
EVENT: First of all, congratulations on placing second in the contest. How did it feel to find out your piece was one of the three winners? And is this your first literary contest win?
BW: When I received the message, I was living on a boat for the summer. It was fate or something. It really made up for last summer when I worked at Quiznos. And yes, this was my first literary win, and I guess my debut in a literary journal that people recognize.
E: I’m curious about how this piece came to be. Did you start to write it while you were working at your Grande Prairie Quiznos, or did you write it much later as you reflected on that period of time? Do you remember the moment when inspiration first struck, or when you realized that it was beginning to turn into something you could really work with?
BW: I wrote this piece as a series of journal entries, one after every shift. I don’t feel comfortable claiming that inspiration ever struck—it was just another way for me to cope with boredom. My intention was to write every entry so that I would work with it. The editing process was simply omitting one-third of the entries from the final draft.
E: Your bio mentions you’ve had work published in a few literary journals. Do you write in genres other than non-fiction? Are you working on a book-length writing project of any kind?
BW: The genre all my work stems from is poetry, but I also create non-fiction, fiction, script, photography, Web phenomena, film, sound things, verbal criticism, collage and drawings. I also perform things and edit things. Most recently I presented research at an undergraduate research fair at the University of Victoria. The research manifested as a visual poetry installation. I hope to release it publicly within the next few weeks as a Web app. Nothing book-length, though.
E: Which writers (or books) are your biggest influences right now? What else inspires and informs your writing?
BW: Lately I feel connected to all the books coming out of Gauss PDF and to Karl Stolley’s essay ‘The Lo-Fi Manifesto.’ On many levels, the open access movement is really important to me and informs the way I create and how I intend to distribute what I create. But I also just watch a lot of movies.
E: Your piece begins with a question: ‘What called me back after all these years?’ By the end, I can’t help but wonder: Do you think you’ll ever work at a Quiznos again?
BW: I’d work there again in a reality TV show kind of way, sure.
Interview by Elena E. Johnson