Earlier this month, we released our annual Reading Challenge, which listed 12 ways to read more diversely in 2018. To help keep you motivated all year long, we’ll be posting a monthly blog written by members of our planning team – each one featuring one of the challenges with four recommended reads.
The first challenge of the year is to read a book by an Indigenous Woman, and the real challenge for us this month was picking just four titles to recommend following a year rich with incredible books by Indigenous women. Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster was shortlisted for the Giller. Cherie Dimaline won the Governor General’s Award and the Kirkus Award with her YA title The Marrow Thieves, and Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers was shortlisted for some of the top prizes in Canadian publishing, as was Leanne Betamosake Simpson’s This Accident of Being Lost.
These titles are all well worth a read, and along with our four recommendations this month, they highlight a long-standing tradition of great Indigenous story-telling that reflects distinct voices and compelling truths — authors who are earning a long-overdue space as integral contributors to the larger body of Canadian Literature.
This month’s recommendations highlight four books by Indigenous women with roots across Turtle Island — books that employ different ways of telling stories across a variety of subject matters. There’s a novel, a collection of short stories, a poetry collection, and a collection of essays about Canada and Canadians, written by one of the country’s most established Indigenous voices. This month, we recommend picking up one or more of the following titles to read in 2018: Carleigh Baker’s Bad Endings, Gwen Benaway’s Passage, Lee Maracle’s My Conversations with Canadians, and Katherena Vermette’s The Break (full descriptions and links below).
Who would you add? Hop on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and recommend titles by Indigenous women and tell us why you love their stories. Use the hashtag #FOLDRC18 to help others find their titles all year long!
BAD ENDINGS by Carleigh Baker (Anvil Press)
Despite the title, the stories in Bad Endings aren’t always tragic — but they are often uncomfortable, unexpected, or just plain strange. Character digressions, bad decisions, and misconceptions abound. While steadfastly local in her choice of setting, Baker’s deep appreciation for nature takes a lot of these stories out of Vancouver and into the wild. Salmon and bees play reoccurring roles in these tales, as do rivers. Occasionally, characters blend with their animal counterparts, adding a touch of magic realism. Nature is a place of escape and attempted convalescence for characters suffering from urban burnout. Even if things get weird along the way, as Hunter S. Thompson said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” In Bad Endings, Baker takes troubled characters to a moment of realization or self-revelation, but the results aren’t always pretty.
PASSAGE by Gwen Benaway (Kegedonce Press)
In her second collection of poetry, Passage, Gwen Benaway examines what it means to experience violence and speaks to the burden of survival. Traveling to Northern Ontario and across the Great Lakes, Passage is a poetic voyage through divorce and family violence, the legacy of colonization, and the affirmation of a new sexuality and gender. Passage is Benaway’s first collection written as a transwoman. Striking and raw in sparse lines, the collection showcases a vital Two Spirited identity that transects borders of race, gender, and experience. Building on the legacy of other ground-breaking Indigenous poets like Gregory Scofield and Queer poets like Tim Dlugos, Benaway’s work is deeply personal and devastating in sharp, clear lines. Passage is a book burning with a beautiful intensity and reveals Benaway as one of the most powerful emerging poets writing in Indigenous poetics today.
MY CONVERSATIONS WITH CANADIANS by Lee Maracle (Book Thug)
On her first book tour at the age of 26, Lee Maracle was asked a question from the audience, one she couldn’t possibly answer at that moment. But she has been thinking about it ever since. As time has passed, she has been asked countless similar questions, all of them too big to answer, but not too large to contemplate. These questions, which touch upon subjects such as citizenship, segregation, labour, law, prejudice and reconciliation (to name a few), are the heart of My Conversations with Canadians. In prose essays that are both conversational and direct, Maracle seeks not to provide any answers to these questions she has lived with for so long. Rather, she thinks through each one using a multitude of experiences she’s had as a First Nations leader, a woman, a mother, and grandmother over the course of her life. Lee Maracle’s My Conversations with Canadians presents a tour de force exploration into the writer’s own history and a reimagining of the future of our nation.
THE BREAK by Katherena Vermette (House of Anansi)
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime. In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed. A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.