RIP: Lee Maracle

The beloved Sto:lo artist and activist has died at 71.

“I was told, at the time I wrote Bobbi Lee, that they didn’t publish books by Indians and that we couldn’t write,” Maracle told CBC Books.

“A leftist publishing house, part of the Liberation Support Movement, actually published it initially. Then it gained notoriety and people liked it.

“It was an oral project, it was part of a course that my editor was teaching. It was teaching us to do life histories because I wanted to do other people’s life histories. But he liked the book and thought we should get it published. He went around and shopped it around, but he ended up publishing it himself because people didn’t want it and believed that ‘Indians can’t read.’

“It was not terribly well received, but it was an oddity. I was the oddity, actually. ‘Who wrote this for you?’ It was always the first question from the audience. And I said I wrote it. But I also spoke it; I’m an oral historian.”

Giller winner

Well, checking my newsfeeds full of lit types this morning confirms I missed the following: an awkward affair with too many cuts to Margaret Atwood. Regardless, Omar El Akkad wins for What Strange Paradise, a book you can somehow purchase at Winners even though it isn’t to my knowledge remaindered like everything else at Winners, is the… well… Winner. Congrats to all nominated. Hopefully the eye of the world lingers on you for an extra few hours today before you take that consolation cheque to the bank to pay your back taxes from 2018.

What Strange Paradise is a novel that tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don’t share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe. What Strange Paradise tells both their stories and how they each reached this moment, while asking the questions, “How did we get here?” and “What are we going to do about it?”

Monday news slog

On cultural appropriation… using pseudonyms to sell books

Ok, hotshot: you’re a Black student in a creative writing class online and your earnest, White teacher often uses her books as examples, when suddenly, a kids picture book feature brown skinned characters and with an author name that is decidedly Southeast Asian sounding comes up on the screen. And it’s book. What do you do?

I was confused.

The instructor of my Zoom children’s book writing class often used her own books as examples for the students. However, the book she’d just shown us, featuring a brown-skinned main character, was written by someone with a distinctly South Asian name. I then heard the words “pen name” and my breath slowed.

Is this what I think it is?

It was. The POC author of the book was actually a blond white woman who didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with her act of brownface.

The other seven students, all white women, continued smiling, taking notes and asking questions. I spent the rest of the hour staring ahead, trying to avoid looking at my Black face staring back on the computer screen.

After class, I lay down on my living room sofa.