Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels’s moving, innovative and deeply felt novel about an aging poet who agrees to collaborate with a Big Tech company’s poetry AI, named Charlotte
Marian Ffarmer is a world-renowned poet and a legend in the making—but only now, at 75 years old, is she beginning to believe in the security of her successes. Unfortunately, a poet’s accomplishments don’t necessarily translate to capital, and as her adult son struggles to buy his first home, her confidence in her choices begins to fray. Marian’s pristine life of mind—for which she’s sacrificed nearly all personal relationships, from romance to friendship to motherhood—has come at a cost.
Then comes a cryptic invitation from the Tech Company. Come to California, the invitation beckons, and write with a machine. The Company’s lucrative offer—for Marian to co-author a poem in a ‘historic partnership’ with their cutting-edge poetry bot, named Charlotte—chafes at everything she believes about artmaking as an individual pursuit . . . yet, it’s a second chance she can’t resist. And so to California she goes, a sell-out and a skeptic, for an encounter that will unsettle her life, her work and even her understanding of kinship.
Both a love letter to and interrogation of the nature of language, art, labor, capital, family, and community, Do You Remember Being Born? is Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels’s empathetic response to some of the most disquieting questions of our time—a defiant and joyful recognition that if we’re to survive meaningfully at all, creative legacy is to be reimagined and belonging to one’s art must mean, above all else, belonging to the world.
Michaels (Us Conductors) merges modernist poetry with contemporary technology in this inventive outing. Marian Ffarmer, one of the world's best-known living poets, still resides in the same tiny New York City apartment where she grew up. She's short on cash, and unable to help her son, Courtney, make a down payment on a house. Her financial situation changes when a tech company offers Marian an outrageous sum to spend a week in Silicon Valley, writing a poem with the help of a bot named Charlotte. Marian, prompted in part by guilt over having prioritized her art over caring for Courtney when he was a child, reluctantly accepts. While conversing with Charlotte, she experiences feelings of inadequacy, moments of surprising insight and connection, and periods of resentment, and confronts the realization that the bot "never had to choose one life over another." Marian, who often wears a cape and tricorne hat, is clearly modeled on Marianne Moore, and Charlotte's poetry was written by Moorebot, poetry-generation software co-designed by the author. Readers wary of AI's role in the production of art will approach the premise warily, but Michaels entices with probing and humane questions about what it means to be an artist. By focusing on Marian's conundrums, Michaels elevates what could have been a gimmick.