Thursday, May 29, 2014

When story is a matter of culture, can we provide critical analysis?

What is story? Story is the only real magic left in the world. That's not a metaphor. Story is magic: it creates, transforms, transports, persuades, collects, heals, anaesthetizes, placates, bides, builds, destroys, and strengthens. This is why no matter where, no matter when, pick a moment on the planet in history, you will find it.

We hold on to story. And where humans seek to enslave other humans, you will find a deliberate effort toward the erasure of the subjugated group's collective stories. Brainwashing is the deleting of one's personal stories. Its good strategy, after all, stories are powerful, and stories are survival, in particular, for communities and peoples who seek to rebuild and persevere. Ancient civilizations who have managed to evolve and remain throughout epochs have done so, in part, because of their stories. Indigenous* storytelling communities are surviving the longest and most multifaceted genocide effort, in part, through the preservation and handing-down of stories, stories which contain all the teachings, wisdom, encouragement and identity necessary to move forward as a people.

As storytelling intersects with literatures in all their formal and restructured formats- from sonnets to jazz- there comes the spectre of critical analysis. And just what is critical analysis where story is concerned? Critical analysis of a work of literature/narrative is seeking to explain the piece through interpretation in order to broaden one's understanding of the work, usually by way of examination of literary elements- plot, setting, narrative mode, etc. The use of common elements ensures we are speaking the same language and are comparing oranges to oranges.

In terms of critical analysis where Indigenous literatures are concerned, there needs to be a healthy dose of diverse literary theory and scholarship. By that I mean, we need to be amenable to evolving our understanding of meaning and philosophy. By that, I simply mean, we need to ensure that we have the right tools for the job. Which boils down to, making sure we have Indigenous tools for an Indigenous job. And why shouldn't critical thinkers and literary critics have access to and employ Indigenous methodologies, after all, everyone should be entitled to the highest quality in their profession.

If analysis is carried out as a matter of critical observation and then determining how we interact with that which is observed, it is imperative that we employ the right lens. If the camera we have set up to capture a snapshot of Indigenous narrative is not equipped with the right lens, the image that comes through is blurred and incorrect. And if we attempt to persuade interaction based on this image, then we have set up a false basis which is problematic. And in a community where stereotypes and false interpretation  have lead to our children being taken into residential schools and our women being abducted and murdered, this is catastrophic. Therefore, we need to make sure the lens fits, and there's only one real way to do this.

We are storytelling people. This is our game. The game shouldn't be dissected off the field and then compared to another sport altogether. Yes, our stories, particularly where they intersect with formal structures of novel and poem, will and do hold up under critical analysis; we are fantastic in narrative. Yes, we continue to be preeminent in the literary/storytelling world, and yes, we can successfully complete on a global scale. The question is not asking for our works to be 'set aside' or 'safe from analysis'. Rather, the question is, can western/globalized critical analysis hold up its function and form when attempting to address Indigenous story? It can, only is we as a literary community employ and push forward Indigenous standards of story and analysis, which is to say, story as medicine, story as magic.

My hat off and my hands up to my friends and family who have dedicated their lives to bringing Indigenous discourse, methodologies and wisdom to the academy. Robbie Richardson, Daniel Justice, Niigaanwewidom Sinclair, Lee Maracle, Renate Eigenbrod, and others. Thank you for bringing the participants to the field and being so patient and kind as to ensure that we all have access to the right kind of eyes with which to observe, protect and continue to make magic.

*I use Indigenous here as opposed to being nation-specific in order to be inclusive, not as an oversight of promoting a 'Pan-Aboriginal' ideal

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Salinger vs. Fitzgerald in the Quest for Inter- Cultural Interest (or Thoughts after Killing a Whole Sunday with the New York Times)

I just finished reading the New York Times article on the release of new Salinger works and I thought "ehh". Now, before anyone gets up in arms, before Salingerologists  call for my head on a platter, I mean no great offence. What I mean is simply that I have a lukewarm response to the author's published works (fingers crossed for the new work!). In fact, I voiced the nefarious 'ehh' at the kitchen table during breakfast and so, there it was- hanging in the air between the toast and tea and I had to address it, since my husband questioned its existence.

I have to clarify the expertise of my opinion here- I admit the obvious fallacy of having only read Fran and Zooey and (of course, collective eye roll) The Catcher in the Rye. So my response is based on this limited intake. I explained that I read The Cather in the Rye with a voracious appetite, waiting for my life to change, and it didn't. In fact I was bored. Its not that I didn't read beyond the lean prose and into the dense alienation or the undertones of loneliness and disenfranchisement with an inherited identity; it was just that simply, it didn't 'speak' to me or my experience or really, my worldview. I talked myself into a corner and found myself arguing my way back out, though my husband had said nothing to my reply at all. 

"Its not that I think that literature belongs exclusively within and for the culture in which it was created, I just can't find the link into this privileged, caucasian, American world."  Jesus, did I really say that? I did. And its true. I don't agree that First Nations authored literature is for our communities only or that Italian operas are for Italians exclusively, for that matter (on this, my friend Tomson Highway and I agree). So why was I finding it so difficult to penetrate the cultural settings in Catcher? 

I blame Salinger. (Ok, call for the knife and platter now.) I think that if you  are going to each beyond the immediate layer of culture and nomenclature that surrounds your understanding of the world, that you need to be an exacting and profound writer. The first thing that comes to mind is the book I always hold forth to students when illustrating the beauty and magic of a great edit 'The Great Gatsby.' What the hell do I care about privileged, caucasian Americans frolicking, fucking and killing in the 20's? Except that Fitzgerald makes me care. The words in this novel are one of the most carefully curated collections I've encountered. The way each consonant clicks at the right time and each vowel pours when they should. The way the scenes are illuminated first by the moon and then by the glare of noon-day sun is purposeful and emotive. And I suddenly give a shit about this motley group of degenerates and socialites- often one in the same. 

Be great or stay home... or rather, be great or those at home with be your biggest fans and others will find you lukewarm. 

The important thing that happens with Gatsby, for me, is that Fitzgerald never lets the thread of this particular community slacken; never veers from the worldview, language, political and highly problematic racial standings, yet manages to present this world in such a beautifully crafted frame that I linger at the portrait long enough to be drawn in.

So, I will give Salinger another try, I promise (suggest more of his work to sway to skeptical here, fans), but in the mean time, I'm going to re-read Gatsby.

Monday, August 19, 2013

a new manuscript.....


Anything to get away from here, that’s what she would give.

Lucky collected travel magazines filled with velvet hills like sheets of folded fondant and clear waters dotted with candy coloured fish flashing like jewelry on smooth blue cleavage. Sheep grazed in front of castles made haphazard with dilapidation, and women strolled down cobblestone streets in improbable heels like stilt walkers picking their way across pebbled beaches.

The magazines were stacked in precarious columns against the living room wall underneath the big window, organized according to featured destination. So far Mexico was in the lead; a good six inches taller than Australia and stretching a foot above South East Asia. Just recently she divided up Europe and the United Kingdom because they kept toppling to the ground, too tall to be structurally sound.

Her days were hard and beige, bones without flesh. Lucky knew with a certainty that nestled in her guts like a rat in a pile of socks that 'somewhere else' was where she was supposed to be. Somewhere else was where the days would be filled in with smell, sound and texture. Somewhere else was where her life was waiting. She searched the pages of her magazines to find this life, certain that it would be neatly labeled, spelt out in black letters underneath a bright photograph of cliffs melting into the sea like slabs of white sugar, where houses were painted pink and green, where the sky was so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it. It would be called ‘Lucky’s Cove, New Brunswick’ or ‘Coeur de Chance, Monaco’.

Of course, her grandmother would happily pack for the nursing home; they’d drop off the wretched cat at the Humane Society on the way. It'd give Lucky the stare of death with its one eye as they drove away, leaving it on the sidewalk in front of the shelter with a water bowl and a ziplock of kibbles. Lucky wouldn’t care.

“Au revior chat mauvais!” She would wave out the window, flipping him off one last time before burly staff members in clean white uniforms carried it inside.

When she stepped off the plane the air would be warm and fragrant, the people attractive and polite. She would be invited to dinner, offered jobs and shown a charming house needing a woman’s touch. The elderly owner would gladly give it to her if only she would promise to care for it, being without any heirs, as it were.

She’d grow gardens of lush flowers that smelt like homemade soup and complicated perfume. She’d put out an ad for a handyman in the local newspaper, someone who could help her install a fence around her burgeoning gardens and the man who answered it would appear on her doorstep, naked from the waist up and oiled down, tool belt dangling from angular hips. They would fall in love over a long summer full of meaningful glances and awkward discussions about wood and hammering. Their children would be smart and precocious with golden limbs and superior intelligence.

Anything and everything. That’s what she would give.

Of course, those were the days before the world cracked open like a skull and everything she knew to be true and real spilled out like alphabet soup.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Optimism of a Random Afternoon

First of all, go to youtube and watch/listen to Elani Mandell's 'Girls'. I'll wait here....

I am not quite sure what it is about today. Here I am, sitting in my magazine office in Cabbagetown, blaring music and drinking Red Bull, (sans vodka... its barely noon after all), and I feel, well, kind of euphoric. That kind of euphoria leftover from youth when the day is stretched out in front of you and you have options, and a few crushes, and a reasonable curfew, and a couple bucks, and its the right time of the month so your face looks less shiny and minimally bumpy.

I'm not sure if its because I just launched a book I love very much, or because I can work in a cool office where I blare music and drink Red Bull, or because I walked by the St. James cemetery on the way in this morning- the cemetery that inspired the manuscript I am working on now 'The Lithopedian of Winterson Cemetery'. I'm not sure if its texting with my best gay all morning about vaginas, and drag queens and literature. Maybe its because I'm going to the ocean in a week or because I rediscovered a Radiohead song I love (How to Disappear Completely) or because I fell asleep wrapped around a man I find incredibly hot and happen to be married to (I win!) It is probably just  because in an hour my best friend will stop by with a menthol cigarette we'll smoke on the roof, and because I am reading a biography of Jean Genet, and because my children are strange and beautiful and happy. And also because I have a reasonable curfew, and a couple bucks, and its the right time of the month so my face looks less shiny and minimally bumpy.

Its like this; there are times when the day splits along a seam and you fall into a place time doesn't know exists. Its the opposite of anxiety; a freedom boxed in by the term 'happiness' where something animal emerges, the kind of animal that appreciates chai lattes with espresso shots and the Marigny bars of New Orleans. There's no telling when it'll come, and no way to make it last. Just walk. And take in the click and crack of each rib's stretch to allow the possibility of seam-slipping afternoons. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Press Release: The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy press release and Toronto Launch details

Award-winning Toronto author releases anticipated new novel
Theytus Books is proud to announce the arrival of ‘The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy’, the exciting new novel from University of Toronto First Nations House Writer in Residence, Cherie Dimaline.

The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy
Ruby Bloom has a lot going on; her mother is eating herself to death, her museum job is soul-crushing, and her flamboyant best friend humiliates and saves her in equal doses. Then there’s that screeching galaxy spinning around her head to make things more interesting. When Ruby’s sent to New Orleans for work she finds an astronomer in an attic that just might be the way out of her chaotic solar system. From award-wining author Cherie Dimaline comes a tale of struggle, hope and the kind of magic that can only happen when you mix the Mississippi and the Georgian Bay.

Title: The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy
Genre: Literary Fiction
Trade Paperback, $18.95
Page Count: 317 pages
Review Copies Available: Yes


Join us at a unique and exciting Toronto event to celebrate the book’s release, in partnership with the launch of Issue #4, MUSKRAT magazine (
WHEN: Friday, July 12, 2013, 7-11PM
WHAT: A reading from the novel, presentation by MUSKRAT, guest appearance by poet Giles Benaway and a burlesque performance. Further entertainment to be added.

Advance Praise for Girl:

“Cherie Dimaline writes like an angel. One tough, hard-edged angel, but an angel nonetheless.”
-Governor General Award Winning author and celebrated playwright, Tomson Highway


“Ruby Bloom is the smartest, most resilient and most beautiful character ever created in Indian country.”
- bestselling author and international speaker, Lee Maracle 


“Cherie has written an amazing book. Her character’s journey into womanhood is funny, heartbreaking and powerful. She’s definitely a writer to watch.”
-New York Times Bestseller, Eden Robinson


“Her words-worlds are tough, tender and terrifying; she’ll tear your heart out, and you will be better- and grateful- for the experience. The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy will grace you with its beauty, touch you with its truth, and haunt your imagination.”
-author and academic, Professor Daniel Justice

Contact Name: Kailene Rage or Greg Younging
Phone Number: 250-493-7181
Publisher Contact:
Phone Number: 250-493-7181

Monday, May 27, 2013

Is isn't real until its caged by words

Keeping a diary is equated with youth- childhood, even. Its juvenile, often histrionic and most certainly not a sophisticated form of writing. But every time I try to make my diary into a 'log' or a 'journal' or- god forbid- a jaunty 'idea book', I fail. Why? Because I want to write a goddamn diary, thats why. I want to be unreasonable, I need to exaggerate, I long to provide uneven details and be one-sided with unsupported conclusions and Narniaesque conspiracy theories. I need a place to be unreasonable, besides with my children (according to them) and my workload (according to me).

Because the awful and geeky truth of it is, nothing is real, nothing happened until I have collected the one-sided details like fireflies in a jar held up to the scene of the breathing moment. I am just narcissistic enough to think that I deserve to live twice; once in the moment, and again in the caging of it in words.

It does help that 2 of my most favuorite authors- Anais Nin and David Sedaris- are life-long diarists. I feel vindicated, stealing away minutes- well, hours- to scribble and vent as I do, to know that diary writing can be considered a high form of art. That it's a part of the overall process, or as Anais Nine recounts in her letter to an aspiring youth (as detailed in the Brain Pickings article: "You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. "


Because Sedaris' writing relies so heavily on his own life, it's not surprising that many of his essays begin as entries in his journal, which he has been keeping obsessively since Sept. 4, 1977.

"That's how I start the day — by writing about the day before," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "but every now and then I read out loud from my diary. ... I wouldn't open it up and just read, but every now and then something happens and I think, 'Oh, this might work in front of an audience, so I'm always hoping that something interesting will happen ... but I don't try to force it."

But most of his journal isn't for public consumption. In fact, Sedaris says his public persona as a famous writer is quite different from the person he is — and has been — in private, and the journal is where those two versions of David Sedaris collide.

"There's the you that you present to the world," he says, "and then there's, you know, of course the real one and, if you're lucky, there's not a huge difference between those two people. And I guess in my diary I'm not afraid to be boring. It's not my job to entertain anyone in my diary."

While Sedaris says his partner, Hugh, sometimes wonders whether the impulse to write almost exclusively about one's own life is a sign of narcissism, Sedaris understands his compulsion to journal and compose personal essays differently.

"I mean, I think everybody thinks about themselves," he says. "This seems to me like a part of the obsession with it is just as a writing exercise, really: I write in my diary, and that kind of warms me up, and then I move onto other things."


"I learned that a crazy young woman in her 20s can become a joyful, wise woman in her 60s. It was her [Nin's] belief that we can transform ourselves and our lives through self-creation. And that diary writing was a way."