This week on #TheBookshelf, I’ve got some great reads for you by Indigenous poets and authors from all over Turtle Island.
There’s a lot I could say about the responsibilities of being part of a settler society, but if you’re here and reading this, then I’m guessing you already know much of what I might say, and you’ve already embarked on a learning journey of your own.
And if you haven’t, then maybe you can start your journey here.
We are never closer as people than when we walk a mile in another’s shoes. Reading fiction and non-fiction from cultures and experiences that are not our own allows us to do just that.
Stories have infinite power to connect us as human beings. Amplifying Indigenous voices–and promoting diversity in the arts as a whole–is important and necessary to us all.
Here are a few of the writers whose work–whose heart-breaking, heart-healing, exciting, hilarious, suspenseful poems and stories–I’ve either already read (and loved) or look forward to reading this summer!
Marilyn Dumont is an award winning poet and educator of Cree/Métis descent. One of my all-time favourite poems is her piece, “The Dimness of Mothers and Daughters” from her collection, Green Girl Dreams Mountains.
There is powerful magic in poetry and it always seems to find me just when I need it the most. I came across this piece shortly after my mother died, when her story–and mine–were all I could think about. These words wrote themselves into my bones. Here’s an excerpt of the poem, displayed at the revitalized Marina complex in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
You can read more about Ms. Dumont and her poetry collections here.
Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in the United States. She is currently serving her second term as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate. I love her collection, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky and in particular, her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here.” For me and my family, the kitchen table has always been the most important place in our home, the place where we gather together at least once a day to share meals, to tackle homework, work on craft projects, to talk and share, to learn and celebrate and grieve. This poem captures the essence of family and of life itself–all in a single piece of furniture. Here’s an excerpt:
"The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women."
-Excerpt from "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo
Visit the Poetry Foundation here for the full poem.
David A. Robertson is a prolific writer of picture books, graphic novels, YA novels, memoir, and more. He is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg.
Strangers, released in 2017, and the first book in his Reckoners YA series, is near the top of my TBR list and based on the blurbs, is packed with intrigue, humour, and magic–I can’t wait to dive in!
His latest work (released in September 2020) is the graphic novel The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga, Book One) and has been called “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.”
Yes, that sound you hear is my TBR list growing again!
Learn more about Robertson, his writing and his other books in this excellent Quill & Quire interview–or at his website.
Drew Hayden Taylor, originally from Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario, is a jack-of-many creative trades–from playwright, to author of both fiction and non-fiction, to filmaker, and (not surprisingly) stand-up comedian. His book Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is one of my favourite reads, and is bursting with trickster magic, clever twists on Indigenous folklore, family drama, and loads of magic, charm, and love.
Come for the mystery, stay for the…raccoons. Yes, you heard me. As a Torontonian, I’ve long had my suspicions about those crafty critters…
Read more about Taylor’s work here.
Rebecca Roanhorse is a speculative fiction writer from the US, whose latest novel, Black Sun, has been nominated for the 2021 Hugo Award for best novel. (She has won the Hugo Award in the past, not to mention the Nebula, and the Locus, as well as the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer.)
While Black Sun will be on my TBR list soon, it’s the author’s debut novel that I’m cueing up first.
Trail of Lightning came out in 2018. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
“While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters—and it is up to one young woman to unravel the mysteries of the past before they destroy the future.”
I mean, really. How have I not read this book already?! Oh, right. I’ve yet to find a job that pays me to read whatever I want all day. Ahhh…someday <cough> Tor.com <cough>. #dream #IDigress
Learn more about Ms. Roanhorse (she’s also written a middle grade novel for the Rick Riordan Presents series and a StarWars novel. I mean how freaking cool is that?!) at her website.
Last, but certainly not least, if you don’t live in Canada, you might not be aware of the national “Battle of the Books”–the literary Survivor–known as Canada Reads.
The 2021 Canada Reads winner was none other than Jonny Appleseed, a novel by the poet, Joshua Whitehead, a two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1).
Jonny Appleseed has been nominated for–or won–numerous awards and is described as “A tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reserve.”
Then I read the publisher’s blurb and was immediately hooked:
“You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine” is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”–and his former life–to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.
Sounds amazing, right? Seriously, my TBR list rocks so hard.
Wait, what was that? You’re looking for more?
Awesomesauce! Check out this fantastic round-up from CBC Books: 35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month. Covering adult fiction, non-fiction, YA, graphic novels, and poetry, this article includes links to some great interviews and loads of resources for further reading.
(And if you lovely folks at Tor.com are looking for a nerdy reader/writer/editor/gamer/knitter/plant girl…well, you know where to find me.)