Friday, March 20, 2009


Is there nothing more pathetic than a reader (invariably female) hanging around a handsome male author waiting for him to sign her copy of his book? Sadly, or happily depending on your perspective and how close you were standing to him, I found myself in this exact situation recently when I went to hear Joseph Boyden read at the University of Toronto with two colleagues from work.

He was part of a four person panel of Indigenous Writers called “Telling Our Stories: Indigenous Writers Symposium” featuring Joseph Boyden, Marilyn Dumont, Drew Hayden Taylor and Richard Van Camp at the OISE/UT Auditorium on March 18, 2009. Okay this is the thing that is always messing me up … it’s not cool to use that Eurocentric concoction “Indian” any more is it?
I like the position this woman Christina Berry has taken on the correct usage - refer to a person's tribe - after all the culture is so diverse and encompasses so many different groups. It's like referring to someone of European background always as European rather than acknowledging that we are Italian, French, Irish, Belgian and very different from each other.

The group was extremely varied which I think is good – blow up the stereotypes, blow them up real good is what I think. Richard Van Camp (a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation) has written poems, short stories and novellas and – okay truth to power, this is my blog right? I can speak freely, no? – his interaction with the audience had a bit of a vibe like he was accustomed to speaking very simply to children or very young adults which got on my nerves a wee bit. He started with a short book for babies he had written which was distributed to every new mother in B.C. last year. But I must say I was getting a bit verklempt when he read it thinking of my own daughter as a baby. He had a very positive energy and style which was engaging. He was wearing a photo of himself as a baby around his neck and made the point that if we all did so it would be difficult to be angry at anyone no matter what they did to you …

Marilyn Dumont, the Cree/Metis poet, read some beautiful poetry about beading which she has taken up and a longer non-fiction piece about discovering the fact as an impoverished young girl that she is a direct descendant of Gabriel Dumont who fought with Louis Riel. Lovely demeanour, very gracious and articulate.

Third on the bill was the multi-dimensional Drew Hayden Taylor whom I used to have a bit of a crush on but he came off very arrogantly during his readings – maybe because he was not positioned as the “star” attraction? That must have rankled as he has been on the scene long before Boyden hit it big winning the Giller Prize last year. I remember when I worked for the Ontario government under Bob Rae more than ten years ago he was dating one of the NDP politicos at the time. All I remember of her was her being rude and condescending to me on behalf of her MPP (but hey we were all under siege then I guess).

He started off saying he was glad to be part of this “Who’s Who” of Indigenous writers because for so many years it was “just Drew”. Crickets … crickets … no response at all, not even a titter from the audience which was comprised of a good number of Indigenous people. Hmm, are we referring to ourselves in the third person now? Sure sign of encroaching megalomania, no? He read a long piece from a vampire novel set on a rez, great idea but not great writing … some jokes about Indians and sexuality promoting his latest book Me Sexy. But overall it was very disappointing with a lot of grandstanding.

Boyden was the big name and read last (and deservedly so). He read three pieces: short sections from his previous book Three Day Road, his new book Through Black Spruce and a short piece written for Walrus magazine. All extremely moving especially the last piece which talked about two real incidents: witnessing the murder of a stranger on the streets of New Orleans and then describing the birth of his son Jacob. I was really taken with his reading.

Afterwards there was a very simple reception on the second floor to which we all trooped dutifully. My two friends had to leave a bit early so I was on my own, clutching my copy of Three Day Road. He was, of course, surrounded by several females … oh we are sad, so sad … I was skulking around a little bit trying to get up the courage to ask him to sign but didn’t want to seem too intrusive. I moved to the side with my book. A woman beside me was very kindly urging me to speak to him as she saw the book in my hands. After a few minutes he came up and said very politely, “Did you want me to sign that for you?” A lovely inscription and then on to the next giggly female in line … I scooted out quickly.

Oy … he really does have a megawatt smile that is very evident in the photos on his author’s website (who took these photos Annie Liebowitz?? They are beautiful). And I’m really looking forward to reading the book. I will keep you posted.

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