Do You Remember Being Born?: A Novel
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.
Praise for Do You Remember Being Born?: A Novel
"[A] timely and lovely new novel . . . So-called 'artificial intelligence' is a hot-button issue, with daily claims about its potential to usher in utopia or destroy human civilization itself. It’s a loud topic, but Michaels’s novel is quiet and thoughtful. Instead of a cliché 'man versus machine' struggle, Do You Remember Being Born? is an investigation of language and legacies both artistic and familial . . . Michaels has a poet’s eye for detail and ear for fresh phrasing . . . No matter your stance on A.I., Do You Remember Being Born? is a tender and moving character portrait full of sharp scenes and memorable observations. While the novel might have a timely premise, it’s a jumping-off point for timeless meditations on art, family, connection and the meaning of a life. These topics will always speak to us, at least until we’re replaced by the machines."
—Lincoln Michel, The New York Times Book Review
"Rich and innovative, Do You Remember Being Born? is a novel about the uneasy relationship between art, artmakers, and AI."
—Camille-Yvette Welsch, Foreword
"A timely work reminiscent of Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 (1995), Michaels' tale shows how AI can, paradoxically, stymie creation through its limitlessness and need for human guidance. This is also a compelling portrait of a tricorne-wearing poet famously dedicated to her craft."
—Alexander Moran, Booklist
"Michaels merges modernist poetry with contemporary technology in this inventive outing . . . [Do You Remember Being Born? asks] probing and humane questions about what it means to be an artist."
"Sean Michaels achieves an astonishing level of narrative, emotional and psychological density with his tightly focused novel Do You Remember Being Born? . . . Sentence by sentence, line by line, Michaels builds a beautiful structure with dizzying, surprising imagery, conjuring metaphors that will leave you with a smile and lingering questions . . . Do You Remember Being Born? is a captivating success."
—Matthew Jackson, BookPage
“This is a book about the choices we make: as poets, parents, people. At once a moving portrait of an artist and a brilliant exploration of the nature of consciousness, Do You Remember Being Born? invites readers to consider the various ways they navigate life under digital capitalism. Sean Michaels has carried the contemporary conversation around AI into a thoughtful new space, where 'one discovers in it, after all, a place for the genuine.'"
—Heather Christle, author of The Crying Book
"Sparkling and kinetic, Do You Remember Being Born? has a deeply generous spirit and a beguiling protagonist, the kind I want to follow forever. A remarkable book about the difficulty—the profundity, too—of making art and making a life."
—Claire Luchette, author of Agatha of Little Neon
"I couldn’t stop reading Sean Michaels’ timely, inventive, and remarkably tender novel. It evades simple binaries about art and technology to tell a story about families, legacies, and connection; most of all, it’s a love letter to language itself."
—Alix Ohlin, Lambda Literary Award winner and author of We Want What We Want
"Beautiful, wise, thought-provoking, and funny—Do You Remember Being Born? is the guiding light I have been waiting to follow through the confusion of what constitutes great art in these times. The answer? You are holding it in your hands."
—Ceridwen Dovey, author of Life After Truth
“Could a novel be any timelier than Do You Remember Being Born? Wonderfully written, it makes you think, on every single page, of where it is we’re going as a species.”
—Douglas Coupland, author of Worst. Person. Ever.
“One isn’t sure whether Sean Michaels is a method actor or a magician. But a poet, he is not. And thank goodness, because here is a novelist of exacting candor whose gifts turn this book full of thorns about the chilling seduction of AI into a rich ride through what is imagined humane in art. You don’t pull off a fiction like this so hitchlessly unless you truly understand how poetry and truth can coexist, even in a world that threatens both.”
—Canisia Lubrin, author of The Dyzgraphxst