Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

My granddaughter has three teeth, so I ordered three copies of BORN WITH A TOOTH for Christmas gifts

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Canada has discovered Jospeh Boyden, or to be honest, I have. I am a little cynical about the awards process. It doesn't make a writer any better than he or she was the day before, but a lot of other people seem to think it does. We are flockers.

I am one of those geriatric hippies who tried not to read Sidhartha etc. etc. I got so sick and tired of people being mellow (narced out) and open (to STD's) while I was just trying to talk my way through grad school.

Same goes for flavour of the month anything. Ho hum.

I have been critical of writers piggybacking on their own culture and other people piggybacking on them. Appropriation of voice was a huge issue a decade or two ago. We had one Western Canadian writing his own "Indian" dialect while claiming the only contact he had was riding the bus with the native brotherhood, and another who was wildly successfull writing dialogue that was nothing like the Cowichan I knew.

For fifteen years, I raised a couple of hundred sheep and three children on a farm next to number eleven reserve in Chemainus. Our kids all grew up together. One boy, whose parents had died of the predictable residential school plagues, was very special to my family.

In his early thirties, after a period of raging and several incarcerations, he took his own life.

We planted a tree for him, but it wasn't enough. I had to write my book, Say my Name, in his voice even if it wasn't entirely his story.

At the time, writer friends warned me the book would be unpublishable. I immediately took it to Richard Olafson of Ekstasis Press, whom I knew to have integrity, and he published it. In the end, there wasn't one single objection. Many elders embraced me and thanked me. My story is true even if it is fiction. All you need is an ear for that.

Joseph Boyden has such an ear. His authentic stories sound like the ironic narrations I have heard while stacking hay bales, waiting by the river for that certain fish to come out of hiding and take the hook, or stripping cedar roots to make baskets. All these things take time, as does a good story. Boyden's writing is plainsong embellished with the humour and visual concentration of oral storytelling.

After reading Through Black Spruce, I was surprised to notice a short story collection called Born With a Tooth on the Cormorant backlist. Whoah! The publicists have been leaving that one out. What's going on? I ordered the book and can now report that this collection, his first book, is, if we are going to make comparisons, the finest of the lot (that would be three, not the two you've been hearing about).

In Born With a Tooth, the narrator shifts shape as often as the trickster. The storyteller migrates to personnae as various as a pregnant Ojibway girl in love with a wolf to a wavering celibate priest. I can't speak for the priest, but the wolf story, which has entered urban mythology, is a real phenomenon. I have witnessed it myself. As the one translates into the many, the human family is embraced by a writer as familiar with his territory as the Australian aboriginals who learn their geography from songlines.

Boyden also writes songlines for a culture surviving the worst trauma invented by human intelligence, because they have wisdom and humour, of which there is plenty in his stories.

I find his short fiction the most satisfying because they last for the duration of a fire in the bighouse, where the best stories are told.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers is the author of the novels Say My Name (Ekstasis Editions, 2000), Friday Water (Cormorant Books, 2003) and The Empress Letters (Cormorant Books, 2007). She has also published several collections of poetry, including Love in the Rainforest (Exile Editions, 1996), Heaven Cake (Sono Nis Press, 1997), The Saning (Sono Nis Press, 1999) and The Bursting Test (Guernica Editions, 2002).

Go to Linda Rogers’s Author Page