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Shelf Life: Kate Tempest

12 September 2012

1:34 PM

12 September 2012

1:34 PM

Kate Tempest started out as a 16-year-old rapper in London. Now she performs the spoken word, reading her poetry, rhymes and prose to stage audiences across the world. She has also written a play called ‘Wasted’, which toured Britain earlier this year. She is involved in a spoken word project at the Battersea Arts Centre. You can find more details by visiting her website,

1). What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Robert Walser Selected Stories and a book of plays by Martin McDonagh. Also Christopher Logue’s War Music.

2). As a child, what did you read under the covers?

The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy by Ursula Le Guin was a favourite for a long time, and my Dad gave me Lord of the Rings when I was so young I could hardly pick it up. I remember parts of it being terrifying and parts of it being really boring, and then I gave up on it.

3) Has a book ever made you cry, and if so which one?

Yeah, often. Blake makes me cry all the time.

4). You are about to be put into solitary confinement for a year and allowed to take three books. What would you choose?

The Bible, coz I’ve never read it, and I reckon it must be full of good stuff for it to have been such a hit. Joyce’s Ulysses, although it might send me crazy, but my thinking is that it’s such an amazing account of a human mind, in all its switching between voices and thoughts and it’s experiencing of a day, it would be like living with people again, and having a portal into reality. And then maybe its cheating but a massive anthology of 20th century novels or modern American novels or something like that, one of those university anthologies with a whole reading list for a year in one book. Is that allowed?

5). Which literary character would you most like to sleep with?

I don’t know, either Murphy or Celia from Beckett’s Murphy, or Marcelle from Satre’s Age of Reason. Or Caddy from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, she’s pretty hot. Or the girl in Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School. Or none of these people at all, but the writers that wrote them.

6). If you could write a self-help book, what would you call it?

The guide to not buying self-help books in order to help yourself.

7). Michael Gove has asked you to rewrite the GCSE English Literature syllabus. Which book, which play, and which poem would you make compulsory reading?

Knut Hamsum – Hunger,
William Blake – ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’,
Simon Stephens – Motortown.

Probably couldn’t be Motortown coz of the content, so if I’m not allowed Stephens, then…

Jez Butterworth – Jerusalem

8). Which party from literature would you most like to have attended?

Probably one of the parties on the bus in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, or one of the parties that Ginsberg writes about hanging out at in Howl, or if I was in really low spirits, the benzedrine party in Hubert Selby Junoir’s Last Exist to Brooklyn.

9). What would you title your memoirs?

‘Beer in a Wine Glass, the Kate Tempest story’.

10). Which literary character do you dream of playing?

I don’t dream of playing anyone really. Sorry to be a killjoy. If I absolutely had to it would be Richard III coz he gets all the best lines.

11). What book would you give to a lover?

I would give them a book that I thought they would get a lot out of. I love giving people books to read. The last book I gave to a lover was the I Ching though, not sure how romantic that is. Before that it was Slaughterhouse 5. Before that it was a book by a man called Kenneth Koch, who writes wonderful love poetry. The last book a lover gave me was The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, that was pretty full on; and then Carson McCullers The Ballad of the Sad Café, that was wonderful.

12). Spying Mein Kampf or Dan Brown on someone’s bookshelf can spell havoc for a friendship. What’s your literary dealbreaker?

I really do like perving over other peoples’ bookshelves. I don’t think I could see a book and be like, oh god, it’s ruined, we can never be friends, coz if someone reads bullshit books it’s their call really, isn’t it? I’m not into telling people what they should and shouldn’t read, but if I saw great books on their shelves I’d probably be more inclined to like them immediately. I think autobiographies are pretty strange; those hardback glossy ones that are written really badly by the same ghost writer. Or that book The Game about how to get loads of women to sleep with you through NLP. If I saw that one on someone’s shelf I’d try not to let it get in the way of a friendship, but I’d probably think they were a bit of a dick. In fact, I definitely would think they were a complete dick.

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