Gunnar Ohberg Interviews Kristyn Dunnion

Kristyn Dunnion, author of Stoop City

Gunnar Ohberg: Have you always wanted to be a writer or was there something in particular that drew you to writing?

Kristyn Dunnion: Growing up watching a lot of bad TV in the 1970s, I was heavily influenced by tough chicas like Pinky and Leather Tuscadero (Happy Days), by the Lady Detectives of Charlie’s Angels, etcetera. I wanted to be like them. Writing is something I’ve come to, more and more, as other excitements have fallen away and as my attention span (and ability to sit still!) has grown. I appreciate the solitude of writing and the discipline of playing with language to get things ‘just right’ in a way that’s so different from collaborative theatre or activist/community projects, from other work I’ve done over the years.

GO: Your books cover a wide range of genre: dystopian, domestic drama, murder-mystery thriller, sci-fi fantasy. Does your experience as a writer change depending on the genre? Have you found some genres easier or harder to write than others?

KD: With each new project, I try to stay open, curious about exploring the world of the story. For me that includes style and genre — I’m more concerned with discovering the aesthetic and getting to know the characters, really inhabiting their bodies and dreams, than with categorizing how it will be told. For me, genre is more of an internal discovery than a conscious choice. One exception is short fiction, which I actively pursued with the misguided notion that it would take less time to write. Ha! I spent almost eight years revising some of the stories that ended up in Stoop City(Biblioasis, 2020). Each book is compelling and challenging (to write) in its own way. Each has been driven by an emotional landscape or unanswered question, by stark imagery and sometimes by an audacious character/voice that will not be dislodged from my head, otherwise. 

GO: In addition to writing, you are a performance artist, a former cabaret performer, and have been the bassist for multiple rock bands. Have these creative performances influenced your writing in any way?

KD: Yes! Visual arts, too, are a deeply satisfying medium to balance the two-dimensional world of text. I am happiest in a studio, mucking about, experimenting. I urge writers to balance that part of their life with physicalized movement, with martial arts or dance or something like that. Making music, co-writing songs, working with other artists to stage something, these are all invaluable experiences that help flex creative muscles and teach us new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, communicating, being. I resist the convention of committing to a single modality within the vast artistic universe, or to a single genre in all of literature; categorization like this, which might serve to inspire expertise and deep understanding for some people, feels restrictive to me. 

GO: You’ve also worked in a shelter system since the COVID pandemic began. How has COVID impacted your writing, if at all?

KD: At first, things weren’t too different, in that I was deep into final revisions for Stoop City, which gave me a framework for continuing to write. Launching a book during the pandemic was strange. One of my favourite parts about being an author is travelling and giving public readings, meeting readers and other writers, and that dynamic in-person element was missing. But it’s astounding to have access to online technology that facilitates connection, and those advantages have been pretty cool. The paid work I do outside of writing is so focused on pandemic response and active front line work, which brings its own stressors and challenges. There have been points during the pandemic when I was unable to read for any length of time (I’d switch to short essays and poetry), or felt too despondent to write (I completed two jigsaw puzzles, instead). People say, “Oh, are you going to write about the pandemic?” and I’m like, “No way, so redundant!” I’m working on a sequel to the dystopic Tarry This NightGlean Among the Sheaves explores abundance, reciprocity, alternative concepts of the Divine. For a change, I want to conceive of a possible future which is not in itself terrorizing: the antidote to white supremacy, to patriarchal capitalism.

GO: It’s been noted that punk and heavy metal have some influence in your work. Can you tell us more about that relationship between music and literature for you? Are there particular songs or bands you listen to for inspiration?

KD: Oh, yes, music fuels me. Each book has its own playlist — what I played while writing, that (hopefully) seeps into the text, contaminating readers. I listened to a lot of doom/sludge metal for Tarry This Night, and wrote hymns in the stairwell of my building: creepy! As a bassist, I’m partial to Black Sabbath, the Melvins, Sleep and Bolt Thrower, to name a very few. 

GO: What books were essential to your formation as a writer, and are there any books you’d recommend for any beginning writer?

KD: Books were a lifeline for me as a kid; the public library in town was a safe haven. It’s so subjective, what book (or band) will knock someone’s socks off, and I continue to be astonished by new or new-to-me writers. The stories I remember most vividly from childhood were emotionally devastating, so much so the books were sometimes confiscated until I’d ‘calm down.’ Books that told me about another person’s struggles in their differently-lived life nurtured deep empathy in me as a reader, as a human. This is probably why I write – primarily to express those intimate longings and, secondly, in hopes for some kind of connection, however anonymous it might be.

For a beginning writer, especially, read widely. Read outside your comfort zone: different genres, diverse writers. Listen to authors speak about their work (so much is accessible online now); this is how we learn to talk and think about our own work, and to place it in the context of what has come before, what’s current, whatever will come next.

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Kristyn Dunnion was raised in the southern-most tip of rural Canada and now lives in Toronto. She has authored six books, most recently Stoop City (Biblioasis, 2020), winner of the 2021 ReLit Award for short fiction, and Tarry This Night (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017). Recent work appears in Best Canadian Stories 2020, Toronto 2033 and Orca. A queer performance artist and heavy metal bassist, Dunnion is also a community mental health support worker.

Gunnar Ohberg is a member of the University of Saskatchewan’s MFA in Writing program. His poems and short stories have recently been featured in The RacketThe Mark Literary Review, and in media res. He is currently working on a dystopian novel set in South Carolina. Sometimes he plays in rock bands.

Brandon Fick Interviews Guy Vanderhaeghe

Guy Vanderhaeghe, author of August Into Winter

Brandon Fick: With your first novel in a decade, August Into Winter, you’ve returned to historical fiction. What sparked your interest in learning and writing about history? Growing up, were you aware of major historical events as they were happening, or interested in your own family’s personal history?

Guy Vanderhaeghe: From a very early age, I was interested in the past. It began with the stories my grandparents told me about their lives, which I drank in. The things they had lived through: prairie fires, the Spanish influenza pandemic, the First World War, the Depression, The Second World War, always seemed richer, more momentous than my own stale existence. These anecdotes prompted me to read history in an attempt to learn more about the world as it existed then.

And yes, even as a child, I was aware of major historical events. Not to make myself sound too precocious, but I was a news nerd at quite a young age. I can recall the world teetering on the verge of nuclear war, sitting at my desk with my classmates listening to the radio as the Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba approached the United States Navy’s blockade, which was determined to prevent the weapons from landing. Kennedy’s assassination made a huge impression on me. I watched and listened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” on television. And so much more, the Hungarian uprising, the Berlin Wall going up, Gary Powers’s spy plane shot down over the U.S.S.R. and the embarrassment that debacle caused the United States. The Cold War and the dread of nuclear annihilation was very much part of my childhood psychology.

BF: What was the impetus to write August Into Winter and what did the research process look like? Having written multiple historical novels over many years, has your research process changed in any way?

GV: The initial impetus was one of those stories I mentioned earlier, which was told to me by my father. Immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War, my hometown experienced a string of house break-ins that turned out to have been committed by the son of one of the most prominent families. He killed the RCMP officer who arrested him and fled. A posse was formed by veterans of the First World War, and they went off in pursuit of him. Unlike the character in my novel, Ernie Sickert, the murderer killed himself when he was tracked down, brought to bay, and surrounded. But the actual incident was nothing more than a nudge that got the narrative moving forward, unfurling. The characters in my novel bear virtually no relation to the real-life murderer or to much else that has to do with what I know of the incident. They are pure invention.

I did a lot of research on the Spanish Civil War since one of my characters served there. Aside from conventional histories, I read a lot of first-hand accounts written by veterans of the International Brigade. I used the Winnipeg Tribune as a source for news about the early months of the Second World War because I wanted a sense of what people were thinking when the course of the war was still so uncertain. Unlike us, they didn’t know how it was going to end and capturing that mood of uncertainty was important for the book.

My research process has changed very little over the years, aside from the fact that the internet now supplies a wealth of easily accessed information, which wasn’t true when I wrote The Englishman’s Boy, my first historical novel. I always sift through far more material than ever makes its way into a novel. A fairly comprehensive knowledge gives me a measure of confidence as I write, because I feel I have a solid grip on the times and events that are part of the novel.

BF: Having reread The Englishman’s Boy earlier this year, I was struck by its themes – violence against Indigenous people, reckoning with the past, the dangers of fascism and propaganda – and how they’re even more relevant in 2021. And in an introduction to Timothy Findley’s The Wars, you said “serious historical novels are always as much about the present as about the past they claim to place before our eyes.” Keeping that in mind, what do you think August Into Winter says about today?

GV: For a long time, I’ve been concerned about the rise of the radical right in the United States and in Europe. Those men and women who went to fight for the Spanish Republic, to defend it against the military uprising of General Franco, believed by taking a stand there they could stop the worldwide spread of fascism. They failed, largely because democratic governments refused to aid the Republic, and Italian Fascists and German Nazis were only too eager to help Franco and the fascist Falange. The Second World War was a bloodier reprise of the struggle against totalitarian, anti-democratic movements. What both wars remind us is that human rights and human freedom are never completely assured.

In part, the book was written because I believe that the radical, populist right, as exemplified by men like Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi, Erdogan, Putin, Orban, Duda – the list goes on and on – are slowly eroding the hope for a world of international law and individual liberty. August Into Winter asks the question: What is the proper response to a crisis such as this? The storming of the United States Capitol by militiamen was a page out of a book written nearly ninety years ago by Nazi SA storm-troopers. Nevertheless, so-called “respectable” politicians attempt to minimize how dangerous such actions are and they are not being called to account for it by the electorate.

BF: One of the key characters in August Into Winter is Ernie Sickert, described as a “spoiled, narcissistic man-child.” Is he comparable to Addington Gaunt from The Last Crossing, or Michael Dunne from A Good Man, characters who do “bad” things for compelling reasons? Is it a challenge to get inside these deeply flawed characters?

GV: I’ve always been interested in what motivates people to do what they do. The presence of evil in the world reminds us that it has a source, and that source is human beings. Ernie Sickert is probably the character who has given me the greatest challenge to write. At one point, my editor remarked that she felt that he bore many similarities to Donald Trump. When I think about it, she might be right. Sickert is self-pitying, vain, arrogant, childish, dangerously impulsive – and above all, forever the “hero of his own story.” I think to write awful human beings, you need to turn off your self-censor, and not be afraid to go to places that are dark, disgusting, or even terrifying.

BF: Speaking of characters, August Into Winter has a huge cast, each with layered backstories. How do writers not only manage, but do justice to so many characters?

GV: That’s a very hard question to answer and the best advice I can offer is that when you write characters be those characters. Write them from the inside, not the outside. If you do that, they have a habit of occupying the spaces in a novel that belong to them.

BF: How has Canadian literature changed since you began writing? Is there less focus on “writing Canada into being” as there was in the 1970s and 1980s?

GV: I think that the cultural nationalism of those decades is largely a spent force. As far as I can see, younger writers have different preoccupations than writers of my generation. When I was a student, we were seldom taught Canadian books; in literature departments, there was a general assumption that Canadian was another adjective for “second rate.” Writers like Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, along with many others, put fiction, poetry, and plays written by Canadians firmly on the world stage.

BF: Do you think your writing style has changed over the years, or can you identify certain “phases” in your writing career?

GV: Looking back, I suppose my preoccupations as a writer have changed. My early work was much more “personal,” more “intimate,” and less concerned with presenting characters in a “social” or “political” context. Structurally, the novels have grown increasingly complex, and the prose is likely simpler than when I was beginning as a writer. When I was young, I was much more enamoured with fancy flourishes and rhetorical fireworks. I hope I’ve moderated and restrained some of that now.

BF: Is there a certain book or short story you’ve written that you’re particularly proud of? Or on the other hand, a work that you wish had turned out differently?

GV: I’m a harsh critic of my own work so I’m not particularly proud of anything I’ve written. I do wish that all my fiction had turned out differently. That is to say, better.

BF: Going back to history, is there a certain historical event or figure that you think is deserving of a new or updated fictional treatment?

GV: As far as I know, nobody has ever written a novel about Leon Trotsky. He is a fascinating character, multi-dimensional, a subject worthy of Shakespearean tragedy.

BF: And finally, if you could sit down with one or two writers in history, who would they be and what would you ask them?

GV: I would ask Chekhov whether he thought he was a better playwright than short story writer. I would ask Philip Roth how it was possible for him to write so well, for so long.

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Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, in 1951. His previous fiction includes A Good ManThe Last CrossingThe Englishman’s BoyThings as They Are (stories), HomesickMy Present AgeMan Descending (stories), and Daddy Lenin and Other Stories. Among the many awards he has received are the Governor General’s Awards (three times); and, for his body of work, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship, the Writers’ Trust Timothy Findley Award, and the Harbourfront Literary Prize. He has received many honours including the Order of Canada.

Brandon Fick grew up in Lanigan, Saskatchewan. He primarily writes fiction and has been published in Polar Expressionsin medias res, and The Society. He received a Writing Diploma from St. Peter’s College and a B.A. Honours in English from the University of Saskatchewan. Brandon is currently in the MFA in Writing program at the U of S, working on a short story collection exploring masculinity and small town life.

The Mother of all Disasters: A Review of Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

It’s the end of the world and Catherine Pierce knows it. Her most recent poetry collection, Danger Days (2020), provides an unflinching reckoning on the fraught relationship between humanity and nature and how war between the two ensures the eventual destruction of both. At times bitter, sardonic, nostalgic, and fiery, Pierce uses both the past and present to paint a future in which humanity must suffer the repercussions of their material excesses. It is a bitter prophetic pill, sweetened with dry wit, conversant form, and tender thoughts on motherhood.

Exploring the origins of apocalyptic endings, Pierce’s poems often investigate the contradictory qualities of beginnings. “Anthropocene Pastoral,” a ruminative and oddly romantic account of a natural disaster finally realized, claims: “In the beginning, the ending was beautiful” (3). Rather than fearful, the poem’s speaker appears almost entranced by all the wondrous symptoms of their failing world: deserts blooming with flowers, air overcome with flora (3). “At least it’s starting gentle,” they note (3). Envisioning a somewhat different kind of catastrophe, “Fable for the Final Days” opens with a similar statement: “In the end, it was an asteroid” (71). Alongside the horrific details provided is a tragic denial made domestic, humans playing board games like “Clue, Battleship, Sorry,” as outside “streets [are] humped with bodies” (71) and “the soil [is] still sizzling with roaches and earwigs” (72). Perhaps no poem better argues the complexity of beginnings than “All 21 of Mississippi’s Beaches Are Closed Because of Toxic Algae,” which borrows its title from an actual CNN headline. Arranged in couplets that almost look like journalistic subheads, the poem repeats many of its sentences with the phrase “it begins” (“It begins with a sister’s / call from a car,” “It begins with a gone / jetty”) until the words become an almost anaphoric chant, culminating in, “It begins and keeps beginning. / With a sidebar headline and a bummer” (29).  

 Pierce examines many of her fears through the lens of motherhood, adding a deeper layer to her collection that is at once compassionate, witty, distressed, and intensely personal. “Strategies for Motherhood in the Age of This Age,” a sardonic tongue-in-cheek survival guide on how to be a mom when disaster feels imminent, campaigns for resiliency even as it notes the prevalent sadness of its world: “Now with that starving polar bear / now with the ‘Gun-Free Zone’ signs on the doors / of the kindergarten… So what if we recite state capitals / in the shower’s echo chamber, or avoid the sad / billboard eyes of the boat donation girl?” (18-19). In “Instructive Fable for the Daughter I Don’t Have,” a speaker pleads with their child to appreciate nature in all its gritty glory as long as she can, urging her to “wear your hair uncovered. / Wear your mouth unset. You may not find / the jewels, the mirror, the stag. But you may find / a bare possum skull… You entered the woods lost. Leave that way” (47). “Inheritance” is an epistolary poem to Pierce’s children that acts as both apology and warning, ironically noting that “when we were children… we understood that the future / was a country our parents would have / to navigate but had nothing to do with us” (15). Pierce’s maternal poetry does little to soothe the anxiety wrought by the rest of her collection; rather, the poems act as a reminder of the complications of becoming a mother in a world that seems to hold such little regard for life.

Despite the gravity of its themes, the collection is not entirely devoid of playfulness. A series of four poems is written in the style of encyclopedia entries from a fictional “Compendium of Romantic Words.” Other poems engage in conversational play with their titles: “I Spend My Days Putting Away,” begins with the line “the small blue car here” (33), while “I Kept Getting Books About Birds” starts with “as if recognizing the yellow-winged one / at the feeder… might somehow / become enough” (65). “Poem for Quicksand” employs the formal romanticism of an ode, complete with its archaic opener: “O you gorgeous torture” (64). The result is a masterclass in balancing horror and humour, a demonstration of Pierce’s ability to cover a broad range of emotions that ultimately makes her poems feel complete and completely human.

Brief moments of levity aside, there is little hope for future happiness in this grim collection. Pierce warns us that dangerous days exist and will continue to exist so long as they are ignored. Effective and explosive, Danger Days covers the death of this world from a variety of nuanced angles. But while the subjects of the poems often change, one sentiment remains unaltered: it’s the end of the world as we know it, and Catherine Pierce does not feel fine.

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Works Cited:

Pierce, Catherine. Danger Days. Saturnalia, 2020.

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Review by Gunnar Ohberg. Gunnar Ohberg is a member of the University of Saskatchewan’s MFA in Writing program. His poems and short stories have recently been featured in The RacketThe Mark Literary Review, and in media res. He is currently working on a dystopian novel set in South Carolina. Sometimes he plays in rock bands.

Karen Wood Interviews Merilyn Simonds 

Merilyn Simonds, author of The Holding and The Convict Lover

Karen Wood: Tell me a story about you being or becoming a writer.

Merilyn Simonds: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories. I made them up for my little sister. In Grade Ten, I started a weekly column of school news in the local newspaper. At the same time, I started writing little vignettes. I’d see two people talking and would write a story, adding my own dialogue. At university, I studied journalism, but that wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to do, so I switched to English literature. Ironically, that stopped me in my tracks. We studied novels from a thematic viewpoint and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t have a theme. I guess I’m not a writer.’ I stopped for a decade or more, then when my kids were little, I started writing magazine articles and how-to books. When my marriage ended, I moved to Kingston to work at Harrowsmith, a magazine that espoused the New Journalism of Hunter S. Thompson. Kingston had a thriving writing community, and so when I found a cache of letters in my attic, that gave me the confidence to write my first literary non-fiction book, The Convict Lover—the real beginning of my writing life. 

KW: Tell me about that first literary book, how you wrote it.

MS: The Convict Lover was a wonderful first literary book because I was sure no one would want to read it. I was free to bring the story to light in the most authentic, honest, engaging way possible, because my contract was solely with the material. Out of that experience I developed an ethic for literary writing that has served me well. 

KW: Your publications cross multiple genres. On your website you’ve been described as someone who refrains from categorization. Can you speak about that?

MS: The Convict Lover forced me to think through the notion of genre. What was this story? An epistolary novel? Narrative nonfiction? An exposé of Canadian prisons? A penal history? I decided that genre was not something that interested me as a writer. It is of great interest to publishers, to booksellers, and readers—it’s a shorthand way of finding the kind of books you like. But for a writer, genre brings baggage, and for me, the last thing I want when I have a body of material is to wrap chains around it and say, ‘It has to be written like this.’ The Lion In the Room Next Door, for example, was published first as a book of non-fiction stories because it was important to me to signal to the reader that these are stories, but they’re not made up. But it was also published as short stories, as auto-fiction, as memoir, and as a novel. I love the flexibility of the definition of story: a series of events; a fiction.

KW: With categorization there can be porous boundaries between, for example, fact and fiction. As a writer, have you had experiences where that provoked any ethical or moral dilemmas?

MS: Absolutely. To me fact and fiction are not two sides of a coin, but a continuum. The telephone book is extreme non-fiction. Conventional biography is closely tied to facts, but as you move into towards the centre of the continuum, through memoir, interpretive biography, personal essays, the prose becomes more subjective, more informed by the writer and their memory. At the centre is a grey area, where as one reviewer of The Convict Lover said, fact and fiction meet and fornicate. At the opposite end of the continuum is speculative fiction. 

To me, it’s a question of readers’ expectations. I had to figure out how to write The Convict Lover, how to deal with the gaps in the story. I wanted to be frank with the reader about those decisions, so I wrote an Author’s Note. I think an Author’s Note is vital, especially for experimental work. And so with The Convict Lover, I said everything in italics in the letters was drawn directly from the letters, the letters had not been changed at all, no characters had been invented, all characters actually lived, etc. However, the dialogue between the characters was invented and the emotions and feelings of the characters were surmised from circumstances. I think readers are sophisticated. As long as they know what’s going on, they willingly fall into a book. 

KW: Can you speak to what is delightful for you about writing?

MS: Writing is hard, but it never feels onerous. The moment when the words fall into place and they actually say what you want them to say—well, it is profoundly satisfying. There’s an ecstasy to writing that I don’t get anywhere else, which is probably what keeps me at it. The feeling has to do with story, and all the elements of story, but equally if not more so, it has to do with language. Sentence structure is heartrate, right? You’re designing sentences to control the reader’s heartrate. There’s nothing more elemental than that.

One of the things that keeps me in this work is that I’m pushed back to kindergarten with every new project. Every body of material is new, and every body of material requires its own form. Every book thrusts me right back into a position of not knowing, and I think not-knowing is about the most exciting place to be. A writer is, in some respects, always a newbie, even though you do become adept at revision and the deep mechanics of writing, of making sentences. You learn how to dismantle something knowing that you will make it better, without being afraid that by taking it apart you’re going to wreck it. 

KW: Do you have a routine? And if so, what is it?

MS: I work well within a routine. I like to get up with the sun. I go right to my desk and work. Take a break, exercise and then go back to work. Have lunch. Normally I can manage about six hours of creative work. I write my first draft long-hand. I use a spiral-bound notebook. I only write on the right-hand side of the page. As I’m writing, I go back to the left side of the pages and make notes like, ‘Introduce George here.’ That first draft is really an exploration of the limits of the story. Some call it the ‘puke draft’. I call it the donné draft—the gift. From that, I write the first draft into the computer, print it, work it over in longhand, then go back to the computer, make those changes, and print it out, work it over.

In the afternoons I edit, make notes, take care of business, until about 3 or 4 pm. In the evenings I usually read. The last thing before bed, I review what I wrote that day. I always stop in the middle: I never end my writing day by finishing a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter. I always stop mid-thought. I read that little last bit over, and all through the night my brain is working on it so that when I get up in the morning, I have something to grab onto to get started again.

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Born in Winnipeg, Canada, Merilyn Simonds grew up in Brasil, where she acquired a taste for the fabulous. She published her first book in 1979 at the age of 29. She is now the author of 19 published books, including the novel The Holding, a New York Times Book Review Editors’  

Choice, and the creative nonfiction classic, The Convict Lover. In 2017, Project Bookmark Canada installed a plaque to honour the place of The Convict Lover in Canada’s literary landscape. Her 20th —Woman, Watching: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Songbirds of Pimisi Bay—will be published in spring 2022.    

With roots in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, Karen Wood is an MFA student whose writing is informed by years of research and community practice, and fueled by a commitment to address gendered violence. New to the world of creative writing, Karen continues to be delighted by the extraordinary capacity of artistic expression to create space for social and political engagement, activism, and change.   

Aliza Prodaniuk Interviews Gail Bowen

Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series

Aliza Prodaniuk: What drew you to the mystery genre? When did you begin to take your writing seriously?

Gail Bowen: I came to writing late. I was in my mid-forties when I got asked to write a lighthearted piece for Prairie Books. It was fun! The fellow who was the publisher liked it enough to suggest that Ron Marken and I write a book. We called the book The Love Letters of George and Adelaide, 1919. It ultimately became a play called Dancing in Poppies that Prince Edward came to see, which was very exciting. After that, I was bit by the writing bug.

In graduate school, my summer reading list was always mysteries. I thought to myself, “I’d like to write a mystery,” one that was set in Saskatchewan and captured the local flavour. That was very important to me. It was also important to create a main character that reflected myself: someone who lived in Saskatchewan, someone middle-aged and ageing, someone with a family, not a superwoman, but an academic like me. That’s really how things started. 

AP: Do you pre-plan your writing? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

GB: The first chapter is very important for me in setting up my story. It takes me forever to write the first chapter. My latest book, An Image in the Lake, took me three months to get through the first chapter. However, when I get the first chapter done, I know where I’m going. There are always surprises along the way, and that’s the joy of writing. But at that point, I have a good idea of what will happen in the book. That first chapter never gets easier for me. Twenty books in, and I still think, “What if I can’t pull the rabbit out of the hat this time?” Luckily, even though the writing hasn’t become easier, with experience, I can tell when I’m doing something that isn’t working. 

AP: Congratulations on your recent publication. An Image in the Lake is the 20th novel in the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series. How did you get here? How do you keep such a long series healthy and fresh?

GB: As I said before, I made several decisions early on that have helped keep things going and keep my readers and me interested. I get an awful lot of mail about the books — I’m grateful for it, and I answer everyone, even the cranky ones — and I think the biggest thing that people continue to care about is Joanne, the protagonist, and her family. Joanne is very approachable. She is not extraordinary in any way. She is every woman. Because she has aged throughout the series, many readers have gone through their middle ages with her and can identify with her experiences.

Joanne keeps me coming back to the series, too. People are like onions; the more time you spend peeling and peeling away their layers, the closer you get to what that person is. That’s the exciting part for me. Joanne constantly surprises me, even after all this time! 

If it ever becomes a chore, then I’ll stop. I think we’ve all read series that have gone on too long, and you can tell that the writer hates the story and their protagonist. I’ve gotten so much out of these books. Six of them have been made into movies, and we got to go to Toronto and be part of that process. We have had so many travels and met so many people, and now they are being made into audiobooks. The series has been so good to me that I’m not going to let it go on too long and be terrible at the end. I’m noticing now that I’m starting to put proper endings on the novels that would be satisfying just in case it’s the last one. I don’t leave anyone hanging. 

AP: What advice would you give to emerging writers?

GB: Take a great deal of time developing your protagonist and getting to know them. The time you put into pre-writing is well worth the effort. It will save you from making an awful lot of mistakes along the way or from simply running out of gas. 

The other thing is, no matter what kind of book you are writing, get your money’s worth out of secondary characters. They can do so much for you. They can keep the interest up so that you’re not totally plot-driven in your narrative. 

Learn about pacing novels. That’s really important, too. Periods of actions and reflection are equally important, and you will want to learn how to balance them. 

Write every day and never leave your work in a bad place! That’s the most important thing I can say. 

AP: What’s next for Gail Bowen?

GB: I just got through chapter one of my next book, and I’m feeling really happy with it. After Christmas, I will be participating in a program through the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild that provides writing advice to rural areas where it’s not readily available. In November, I will also be giving a lecture on Canadian Literature at Marburg University in Germany. So, I will be very busy in the coming months. 

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Gail Bowen is a prolific author, playwright and teacher. Her best-known works are the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series of mystery novels, all of which are set in Saskatchewan. The twenty novels in the series have received national and international acclaim for their realistic, continually evolving heroine and examinations of contemporary social issues ranging from child prostitution to feminism, racism and domestic abuse. Six books in the series have been successfully adapted for an international television audience. Among her numerous writing awards are a lifetime achievement award from the Crime Writers of Canada and the Distinguished Canadian Award from the University of Regina and the Lifelong Learning Centre. Readers’ Digest has called her Canada’s best mystery novelist. She is also a playwright, specializing in children’s literature, and has adapted a number of classic works such as Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast for the stage and radio. In 2018, she was awarded the Grand Master Award of Crime Writers of Canada, and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

Aliza Prodaniuk lives in Hamilton, Ontario and is a current graduate student in the MFA in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan. She has had recent work appear in East by Northeast Literary Magazine & The River Volta Review of Books.

“these hard little dreams”: Nostalgia, Heartbreak, and Resilience in Sarah Ens’s The World is Mostly Sky

*Please note: due to constrictions of WordPress, the excerpts from the text may not be formatted as they appear in the text. We did our best to format excerpts as close to the original as possible.

Sarah Ens’s debut poetry book, The World is Mostly Sky (2020) is a stunning collection full of vibrancy and teeming with tenderness. Each poem, like each tooth in the first poem, “By the Skin,” is a “hard little [dream]” given to readers in the “square white envelopes’’ of each page (Ens 3).  The World is Mostly Sky is composed of three sections: “Silos,”“Wuthering: A Comprehensive Guide,” and “Powerful Millennials on The California Freeway.” In these three sections, Ens’s poetry first soars through childhood nostalgia and anguish, dives through thick waters of heartbreak and longing, and finally crashes up through clouds of young adulthood with ice coffees raised like chalices to the sky. 

The first section, “Silos,” orbits around themes of change, loss of innocence, and growing up. In “World We Rise,” three children witness a teen destroying a bird’s nest, resulting in the death of the baby chicks. In this moment, the children witness death and loss simultaneously. The mother bird “frantic / at the hydro / wire… shrieks” (10) at the loss of her babies while the poem’s speaker reflects, “did she / think she / could still / save them / & us” (11). “Silos” moves into a meditation on growing older in “Choreography of Bounding,” wherein the play of two sisters concludes with the elder sister, the poem’s speaker, stating “the choreography / of our bounding / too obvious, / & none of it real” (15). This moment, while saddening to the sister, whose face “slump[s]” (15), is also a moment of growth and maturing as the poem’s last words “before flight” (16) signify reaching for the outer world of adulthood. “Straddled” and “The Sacredness of Sleepovers” portray a darker side to growing older: the imposition of sexuality on young girls. In “Straddled,” the speaker sees girls that “straddled everything” in posters “leaning over bikes” (17) while in “The Sacredness of Sleepovers” the speaker becomes the confidant of a friend who was “touched… when [she was] just a kid” (18). “Silos” concludes with “I Promised No More Poems About the Moon,” a poem of softness and vulnerability and searching for meaning in “footprints in the field… & the faded moon” (28).

The middle section, “Wuthering: A Comprehensive Guide,” deals with love and loss, heartbreak, and longing. In “Early February & He Built Her a Nest,” a gannet falls in love with a stone bird, evoking Ovid’s Pygmalion myth in a fresh way. The bird “shape[s] her beds of seaweed, twigs & dirt” (31) despite her inanimacy. The poem “Wuthering: A Comprehensive Guide” captures falling in and out of love through bodily and disembodied movement and response. This long poem begins with capturing the movements of love: 

The body burns

red in triangles, maps

Circles from your collarbone

to your chest, pokes breath to

your inner ear,

            seeks sun, craves water

& also you.

            The body unfurls. (53)

The breaking apart of the relationship is then embodied by “huge / & heavy silence, the inevitable / sinking” (58) followed by the eventual recovering and resilience of the body in the final stanza:

the body learns to dance whole 

Routines, cook soups & stews,

sleep soundly. (61)

This poem exemplifies the primary message of this section: the coexistence of love, heartbreak, and resiliency. 

In the final section, Ens showcases the beauty and power of millennial friendships. The prose poem, “Communion,” turns the mundane to spiritual, highlighting the sacred in moments of quiet friendship. Here, “ritual” is “dyeing each other’s hair in the bathroom… [searching] the carpet for claws the cat has shed” and “[sitting] around on the kitchen floor” drinking wine (75). In these moments, bonds are formed in the “telling[s]” and “teachings” between friends, and in the ritualistic chanting of “me too, me too” (75). The power in these friendships peaks in the second to last poem of the collection, “Powerful Millennials on The California Freeway,” which evokes the freedom of becoming lost in a moment, screaming to songs on the highway, and “waving iced coffees / to the sun” (89). With details like this, Ens reminds the reader of the title, The World is Mostly Sky, giving a final salute to hope and the serendipity of everyday life. Moving through memory to heartbreak to resilience, this is a debut collection you won’t want to miss. 

Work Cited

Ens, Sarah. The World is Mostly Sky. Turnstone Press, 2020. 

Review by Delane Just. Delane Just (she/her) lives in Saskatoon and is a current graduate student in the MFA in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan. She has had work appear in In Medias Res and The University of Saskatchewan Undergraduate Research Journal.

Have Courage: A Review of The Long Walk by Jan Zwicky

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Engaging heart, mind, and body, Jan Zwicky’s collection of poems, The Long Walk (2016), invites readers on a journey through a lifetime of memories, intimate moments of personal loss, grief and joy fused with images of environmental and cultural devastation. Throughout, the poet skillfully weaves metaphor with detailed descriptions of nature and difficult subject matter to tell a story of strength and returning home. This is stated with elegant simplicity in “Haydn: The Unpublished Sonatas,” the last poem of the collection: 

A winter night after snow,

the long walk home, faint smudge of moon

And climbing the stairs at last, then,

and lighting the fire, 

and slowly, gently, taking off your coat (75)     

The poem “Courage,” offered as a prelude to the four sections that comprise the collection, reminds the reader that there is much yet to be done: “And now you know that it won’t turn out as it should, / that what you did was not enough” (8). The reader is urged to witness a world that enables environmental devastation and social injustice, and to have the courage to take action, however weary they might be: “Come, step closer to the edge then. You must look, heart. You must look” (8). The line foreshadows the need for the reader to brace themselves for the difficult subject matter that follows.

The first section of the collection opens with “Into the Gap,” a poem that, along with the last poem in the collection, describes a return home through childhood memories detailed with images of an altered landscape. This poem flows like a song with a rhythm that captures the wind:

            To set out west, into the windbreak’s gap,

            and through the memory of the poplars roaring on the night

            your father died, the memory of the bench, not house, 

            he built high in their branches – you could look out

            to the first rise of the foothills – and the tunnels

            in the caraganas underneath, dog-

            haunted, their dry and scented shade. (15)

The land is explored through memories of ice-clotted mitts, mushrooms, fallen logs, wild strawberries and  events that took place years earlier. The last few lines of this poem incorporate a theme that is woven throughout the collection: “The body / knows before the mind collects itself: what held you / is what held you up, at every step, / to set out then / into the walk that keeps on walking. Coming home / without a roof” (17). The experience of coming home as a sense of completion is embodied through memories of the land despite, or perhaps because of, painful losses along the way. 

The second section uses the language of machinery, nature, and contamination to enable readers to feel in their bodies, in the way physical relationships are felt, the impacts of environmental destruction. The brutality of progress is captured through a powerful use of defamiliarization, exemplified in the poem “Near: “that put the steel in our forearms… the axle of our will is seized” (30). The individual body is conflated with culture and nature; bodies, machines, even child soldiers are implicated as labour-saving practices that promote progress. At the end of the poem, Zwicky urge the reader to take action, to speak up, “Louder. Louder” (31). 

The third section continues the journey, incorporating sorrow and joy, personal and environmental transition, departure and violation. The poem that strikes me most in the collection is “No,” in memoriam to Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, a young Somalian girl who had been raped and subsequently stoned to death to pay for the sin of being raped and reporting it. This poem again calls on the reader to witness the politicization of women’s bodies through the repetition of the words, “Because she was a woman”:

            Because she was a woman

            she’d been raped.

            Because she was a woman

            there was no excuse. (50)

As in the first three sections, the fourth has moments of beauty and joy that intersect with science, geographical distance, and environmental destruction. The world expands and contracts simultaneously and seamlessly, rendering inherent contradictions visible. 

This collection of beautifully written, pragmatic yet theoretical poems invites readers of diverse backgrounds and interests into a world of pain and joy, despair and hope. It invites them to open their hearts and join the writer on a journey home along life’s streams, gullies, and roadways. 

Work Cited

Zwicky, Jan. The Long Walk. University of Regina Press, 2016.

Review by Karen Wood. With roots in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, Karen’s writing is fueled by a deeply held commitment to addressing gendered violence, informed by years of working in the community and conducting research in social work, education and health. New to the world of creative writing, she continues to be delighted by the extraordinary capacity of artistic activities to create space for social and political engagement, activism and change.

How Form Informs Content: Barbara Langhorst’s “Climate Change” from Restless White Fields

The phrase “climate change” refers most obviously to global warming, the melting of polar ice caps, the erosion of the ozone layer, the impact of human industry on the environment. It makes sense to title a poem about catastrophe “Climate Change,” and Barbara Langhorst does not disappoint, though the environment is the family, and the catastrophe is the problem of motherhood.

“Climate Change” opens with the speaker addressing her daughter, then parallels her self-perceived failings as a mother to her own “radiant” mother (27). The parallel is quite literal—the past and present exist simultaneously on the page, with the speaker’s present on the left and her memory on the right, curving outwards and foreshadowing the later shapes and melding of present and memory into grief. 

On the following page, these two parallels are brought together through an italicised stanza that describes and enacts what the speaker is doing: reading. The italics indicate quotations from other written works (citations located at the back of Langhorst’s book), so that the poem shows us what the speaker reads even as she writes the poem. The tension between memory and the speaker distracting herself through reading is realized with the mention of “at her funeral,” when the reader sees that the memory of summer lake visits is overwhelmed by the presence of mosquitos at the mother’s funeral (28). The reluctance to face this other memory—or the desire to hold onto the happier memories—is indicated through word-spacing. A small stanza on the left could read “the last day / the inevitable / soggy three-day / holiday week / end—” and be talking about the speaker’s desire to remain at the lake as a child, or the desire to remain inside that memory (28). However, the lines “[the mosquitos overwhelming / at her funeral]” interrupt this stanza, claim space beside the end lines, so that the end of the holiday weekend becomes the funeral weekend (28). The square brackets around those lines further indicate the intrusion of thoughts the speaker would rather keep at bay. The poem then focuses on describing the mother as she was, but this is overrun by the mention of the speaker’s father, and the poem abruptly reverts to quoted lines; the speaker turns off her thoughts by returning to reading.

However, the thoughts return and the speaker soon tells us—hesitantly, haltingly, with many interruptions from other texts—that her mother was murdered, and that “three days the bodies lay,” with no other hint of her father (29). The following page retreats into quotes and memory, with the speaker berating herself and her family for forgetting their mother’s birthday, and the accompanying quotes relaying a mother-daughter experience that could have been shared by the speaker and her own mother (30). The layout of this page positions the speaker’s memory inside a cocoon of borrowed memories (quotes) that insulate the speaker’s regret. This regret is tied to how her mother died, and that it took so long to discover her death, but ensconced inside the mundane quotation-memories, this specific instance of disappointment speaks to the larger regret without facing it head-on.

Conversely, the next page is displayed in a circle, with quotes and the speaker’s thoughts interspersed together and a void left in the middle of the page (31). On this page, the poem can be read as italics, then non-italics, across the lines, or down either side and then the next, or even jumping between stanzas, so that the eye crosses over at each extra space between lines. The lack of direction in how to read this embodies the lack of direction experienced by the speaker, regarding both processing her grief and reconciling her ‘failures’ as a mother with her ‘failures’ as a daughter. The circle implies the cyclical nature of grief and trauma, while existing as a gaping hole, but the poem leads out of this in a descending line that continues straight down the page, offering a path out of grief and depression, while still allowing for that grief to be revisited and explored from other angles upon (re)readings.

While the end of the poem tells the reader that the speaker’s father is responsible for her mother’s murder, and that afterwards he killed himself too, the poem refuses to be defeated. The end circles back to the beginning, and returns to food and notions of nutrition, allowing room for her family climate to change again, for the better, while recognizing that that change has not occurred by the end of the poem.


Work Cited

Langhorst, Barbara. Restless White Fields. NeWest Press, 2012.

Essay by Allie McFarland, a bi, white settler originally from Calgary, AB on Treaty 7 territory. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of English, where her thesis, a manuscript on eating disorders currently under consideration with multiple presses, was nominated for the College of Arts & Sciences Thesis Award. She is a co-founding editor of The Anti-Languorous Project, which publishes antilang. magazine, soundbite, Good Short Reviews, and the On Editing blog series. Her poetic suite “Lullaby” won the 2015 Dr. MacEwan Literary Arts Scholarship. She is also the author of the chapbook Marianne’s Daughters (Loft on EIGHTH, 2018). Allie currently runs a not-for-profit used bookstore on the unceded territories of the Lekwungen people of Vancouver Island. Disappearing in Reverse is her full-length debut.

Reconstructed Homeland: A Review of Bittersweet by Natasha Ramoutar

Please note: Quotes are formatted as closely as possible to the original text. There may be some discrepancies. 

Natasha Ramoutar’s debut poetry collection, Bittersweet (2020), reflects on a “reconstructed homeland” of the Indo-Guyanese diaspora and Scarborough, Ontario (Cover copy). Playful, inventive, and poignant, the artfully titled Bittersweet asserts poetic creation as a tool to explore the persistent aftertaste of racism, colonialism, and the self, while asking: “How do you unravel a history of trauma, that which is woven / within you?” (Ramoutar 72). 

In answering this question, Ramoutar is like a cartographer, drawing maps from “home to home, from Toronto to Guyana to South Asia” (Cover copy). Meanwhile, Scarborough remains omnipresent as a “city of travellers” (32) within which Ramoutar weighs her life against history, like tea leaves, shifting “back and forth, / reading for the past instead of the future” (5):

Ask me where I come from and I will tell you: from the remnants of melted sugar cubes, from the rough grains ripped from stalks, from spices and saccharine scents, from a sweetness that mixes with cardamom hanging in the air. I come from a line of bittersweet women, women shrewd enough to empty pockets, to upturn kingdoms, to launch ships to war. On a journey long ago, I witnessed the origin point: fields of cane standing tall like soldiers on patrol. But cane is raw, just long stalks, unbridled and wild and free. (2)

What is striking in this poem, “Cartography I,” is the associative imagery between “remnants of melted sugar” and women. Both are “rough grains ripped from stalks,” reduced from “fields of cane standing tall like soldiers” to something bittersweet (2); pleasure tinged with suffering. This layering effect underscores Bittersweet as Ramoutar returns to different “origin points” to collect pieces of her homeland and explore her third-culture identity (2).

The back cover states that when writing Bittersweet, Ramoutar meditated on “memory—[personal and collective]—prompted by photographs, maps, language, and folklore.” The collection draws from these sources to evoke metaphor and renovate form. For instance, “All Inclusive” mimics an advertisement for an all-inclusive vacation package (34). The poem parallels “white-sand beaches, / places we can dub nirvana” with colonialism: “six days of escaping, / six days of imposing” (34). Ramoutar’s inventiveness with form, such as creating an all-inclusive vacation, a fire-starting guide (9), and recipe (67), subverts the positive multi-cultural identity of Scarborough, revealing it as problematic. She does this by taking familiar markers in western culture and defamiliarizing them to show their harmful nature. Most importantly, Ramoutar confronts readers from outside the Indo-Guyanese community with challenging subject matter, asking them to reflect inward and create something positive in the process. 

Whether it raises awareness of systemic racism or begins unravelling readers’ relationship with trauma, Bittersweet has something for everyone. While the audience for some poems is primarily those outside the Indo-Guyanese community, others speak directly to “diaspora babies” (13) who “walk on eggshells” (69) and are made to suppress their identities: “never add your own flavours. They’re not a good fit” (67). These poems share stories of resilience in marginalized communities by celebrating the parts of language, dance, cuisine, and history that are retained and reclaimed. These bits of collected memory blend with a constant yearning to know a home that was stolen, as exemplified in “Us Diaspora Babies, We Do Not Sleep”:

This boat, it rocks back and forth like a cradle on the Essequibo 

            River,

us diaspora babies swathed in red life jackets,

the steady shifting trying to lull us to dream.

[…]

This boat tries to comfort,

but us diaspora babies,

we do not sleep —

only dream with eyes wide open, 

grasping at the water of our homelands, 

droplets slipping through our fingers with each midsummer 

            breeze.

Us diaspora daughters, 

listening to our parents’ stories of the golden era 

of a far off youth.

We know of home through photographs and UN reports, 

but what of seeing with our own eyes?

What of divided states of being?

What of us diaspora babies, 

Us diaspora daughters,

exiled before birth? (13)

Bittersweet by Natasha Ramoutar is a “sugary syrup” (61) of sensory details with an aftertaste of racism and colonial violence. The poetics are clever, the form and content engaging, but the real reason to read Bittersweet is that it validates Indo-Guyanese diasporic experiences as being as true and important as any other. As Ramoutar unravels internalized trauma and explores her identity, readers are invited into a space where they can safely do the same. One must read the collection to reach Ramoutar’s conclusions, but rest assured, “it comes together / slowly” (72).

Works Cited

Ramoutar, Natasha. Bittersweet. Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd., 2020. 

Cover copy. Ramoutar, Natasha. Bittersweet. Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd., 2020.

Review by Aliza Prodaniuk. Aliza graduated from McMaster University with an honours BA in English and Cultural Studies. She secretly enjoys sci-fi and fantasy but will tell you she only reads literary fiction. She is currently creating and exploring in Dundas, Ontario, where her work dabbles in murder mystery, eco-fiction, and realistic fiction. Her writing has been published in various business, science and travel magazines/journals, with her most recent work appearing in the Canadian Journal for Medical Laboratory Sciences. She’s currently happy to have time to focus on her work while learning alongside other writers at the U of S. 

Interview with Lenard Monkman

Özten Shebahkeget Interviews Lenard Monkman

Lenard Monkman, writer and associate producer with CBC Indigenous

Özten Shebahkeget: When did you begin to take writing seriously? And what motivated you to start?

Lenard Monkman: I didn’t take writing seriously until around March of 2015. I set it as one of my goals that year to become a better writer. That month, I started a personal blog just to get used to having a space for my writing, but also just to get into the habit of writing all of the time. Another thing that I started doing was putting out long Facebook statuses. I wanted to get into the habit of writing every day and getting used to having feedback from my online Facebook community. It was a good practice for me, and those long-winded Facebook statuses eventually became newspaper op-eds, which eventually became a job as a journalist. Truth is, I have always been a journalism nerd, I just needed to get used to writing every single day.

ÖS: What obstacles have you encountered as a writer? 

LM: If you take it from 2015, I would say that there haven’t been too many obstacles. At the beginning of that year, I went from barely being able to write a properly formatted email and typing very slowly, to being able to write 500 words in 5 minutes by August. Although now, when I look at the things that I was writing five years ago, it is hard to read because I can see how much I have improved since then. The best advice that I ever got from anyone was: if you want to become a writer then you need to pen to paper every day. I always thought about that and recognized that every single time that I write, it’s an opportunity to improve with each story and each sentence.

ÖS: You are a co-founder of Red Rising Magazine. Why was creating a literary magazine for and by Indigenous people important to you? 

LM: I wanted to get into producing media before we started Red Rising Magazine. It was definitely a collective effort to get it off the ground with a bunch of energetic, intelligent folks from Winnipeg. We went from not having a whole bunch of skills, to having all sorts of publishing related skills in just the first year. I think the main idea behind everything that we did was to give Indigenous writers and artists an unfiltered platform that existed outside of the traditional forms of media. The magazine became a place where many people that I know had their first opportunity to be published and it is something that I am proud of. Although I haven’t been with the collective for a couple of years now, I still believe there is a space for that type of work and would like to see it continue in one form or another.

ÖS: You have been a journalist with CBC since 2016. The Canadian media has always had such a profound impact in framing Indigenous stories, and storytelling is an integral aspect of Indigenous cultures. What do you feel are your responsibilities as an Indigenous journalist, and what have you learned from telling the stories of a vast array of Indigenous peoples in Canada?

LM: I think the biggest responsibility is to make sure that what I am doing is truthful and that people feel like they were accurately represented in the work that I have done. I haven’t done as much “accountability” type of journalism as much as I have done the “here are some Native people doing really cool things” type of journalism. I really want to use the mainstream media platform to try and boost our people’s presence and to highlight their successes. But I also strive to make sure that the reality of what our people go through is being heard in newsrooms like the CBC. What I have learned from talking to so many Indigenous peoples across the country over the years is that we are brilliant and that our cultures are diverse. I’ve also come to realize that so many of our struggles are similar from coast to coast. There are a lot of things that I continue to learn as the years go by, but getting a chance to talk to Indigenous people all over the country is easily the most enjoyable thing about my job.

ÖS: What are some of the books that have influenced you? 

LM: I always give credit to Indians Wear Red. The book spoke to my reality of what it was like growing up in Winnipeg’s inner-city in the 90’s-00’s. It really was a “light bulb moment” for me to understand that what I was seeing in my life was happening not just in my life, but everyone else in my community as well. The last chapter “What Can Be Done?” was also a call to action for me. I think that the more we are able to try and create changes within our communities, the less healing the next generation will have to do. Another book that I really like is Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. There are a lot of really good psychological gems inside that book that are applicable to the Indigenous community.

ÖS: What do you write outside of journalism?

LM: I still love Facebook more than the other apps. It allows me to joke without feeling like I’m being judged. It allows me to write in long-form if I ever need to get a thought out. I also really just practiced everything that I could in terms of writing on that app. I also like to use Twitter, although it’s more of a professional space. Twitter has made me a better writer because I put a little bit of thought into trying to make those sentences a bit stronger.

ÖS: Where would you like your writing to go next?

LM: I feel like I have been thinking about this question for a couple years now. I try to improve with each story that I write. I also try to improve with each radio script, TV script and everything else that is journalism related. I have thought for a long time about whether or not I would like to write children’s books, graphic novels, fiction or nonfiction. I guess the biggest thing that stops me is feeling like I need to be an incredible writer before I actually start writing. Eventually I will settle on a subject, and hopefully I can dedicate enough time to sit down and hammer out something that is loosely based on some of the things that I have seen in my life.

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Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. In 2021, he received the Manitowapow Award from the Manitoba Book Awards for his contributions to the Indigenous writing community.

Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation and an MFA candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. She grew up in Winnipeg’s North End and holds a BA in English from the University of Winnipeg. Her poetry has appeared recently in CV2Prairie Fire and The Winnipeg Free Press.