How Should A Person Be? is Shelia Heti’s fifth book. More important, it’s what those in the biz call her breakout book. James Wood, the New Yorker’s resident literary critic, gave it the full treatment, with an article-length review, praising its “raw, almost Warholian feel” and its “pleasingly (sometimes irritatingly) free, formless, and autobiographical atmosphere.”

Subtitled, “A Novel from Life,” the novel uses transcribed conversations and real emails mixed into the fiction. The publisher calls it “part literary novel, part self-help manual, and part bawdy confessional.” “Increasingly, I’m less interested in writing about fictional people,” Heti said in an interview

with the art critic Dave Hickey, “because it seems so tiresome to make up a fake person and put them through the paces of a fake story.”

How Should a Person Be? was nominated for The Women’s Prize for Fiction, was included on many Best Books of 2012 lists, including The New YorkerThe New York Times, Salon, FlavourpillThe New Republic, and The New York ObserverTime called it “among the most-talked-about books of 2012.”

Her first four books are all products of that inventive, highly original literary mind. The stories in The Middle Stories are fables, edgy and surreal. Her first novel, Ticknor is completely different, a gentle, compassionate dramatic monologue. After that came an illustrated book for children, We Need a Horse, and a book of unclassifiable “conversational philosophy” called The Chairs Are Where the People Go.

The covers of a book can’t contain Sheila’s literary imagination. In 2001 she created the Trampoline Hall lecture series, featuring three speakers delivering lectures on subjects outside their expertise; every show has sold out. Her 2008 blog, The Metaphysical Poll, collected the literal dreams people were having about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries. The site received hundreds of dreams and substantial press coverage from The Washington Post, The LA TimesSlate, The Economist, and others.

Currently, Sheila is working on a collaboration with Leanne Shapton and Heidi Julavits called Women in Clothes about why women wear what they wear. You can take part in their survey by emailing

Sheila lives in Toronto.