Ontario Author Profile: Cherie Dimaline

NOW Digital Residency: Ontario's Best Books

As part of this month’s Ontario’s Best Books Digital Residency, we’re profiling some of this province’s prominent authors. See all of the profiles here.

What’s your most recent written work about?

The Marrow Thieves is a dystopian story set in the near future (thanks, Trump) where cataclysmic climate change, sickness and wars have rendered the population unable to dream causing widespread madness. The government quickly realizes that the Indigenous people who live in what is currently known as North America can actually still dream and its rumoured to be housed in the marrow of their bones and re-opens the residential schools to corral them and harvest the marrow. The story follows a group of Indigenous dreamers as they run from the schools and into the north where community is rebuilding itself. What they don’t know is that one of them holds the answer to a real escape, once and for all.

Do you have anything specific you do for your writing process?

I do this awesome thing where I procrastinate and binge watch Netflix and re-read Camus and Burroughs until I am *this close* to deadline. Then I carve out every available minute, lock myself away and write the hell out of it (sometimes screaming as I do). Then there is a significant amount of rewriting, extra research and editing – which is equally fun. The whole process is like putting together a giant puzzle. (One that makes you scream while doing it, apparently.)

Describe one opportunity that improved your life as a writer.

Awards and recognition are so important in this competitive field. After I won the Governor General’s Literary Award in November 2017 and then the Kirkus Prize that same week, my life as a career writer became not only feasible but completely necessary. An award can be an absolute game-changer.

What’s one thing Ontario creative industries could do to be more inclusive of authors from indigenous and diverse communities.

Let’s really stop asking BIPOC people to sit on diversity panels and teach diversity 101 and carry the burden. BIPOC literatures are ancient, modern, difficult, musical, sexy, ceremonious and so necessary. Ask us to sit on process panels or teach English literature or run a poetry workshop. That’s actual diversity. Our stories should be threaded throughout all thought and industry initiatives. Some schools in Durham have replaced To Kill A Mockingbird with The Marrow Thieves in core English, and I think this is the coolest shit ever. Now the kids are learning about Indigenous knowledge systems, residential schools, the 7 Grandfather Teachings, cultural appropriation, et cetera, as part of their regular curriculum.

We will enhance and bring our stories and teachings into the room with us because that’s how we walk. And having us in the room is good for Canadian literature. Not because it’s a check-box to #reconciliation, but because our stories are brilliant and bestselling.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you when you were first starting out as a writer?

Concentrate on the story. Publishing is not story. The business of writing is not story. Honour, love, fight for and pray with story and the rest will follow.

Do you have any favourite Ontario authors or books?

SO MANY. I’ll keep it to five writers: Catherine Hernandez, Carriane Leung, Gregory Scoffield, Farzana Doctor and Leanne Simpson. (Good thing I’m up against two of them for the Trillium … no pressure there!)

Name a person in your field who you think deserves more attention.

I have to be ‘that guy’ and list two names instead of the allotted one: Lee Maracle and Maria Campbell. These women were instrumental in building Indigenous literature. I mean that literally. They’re out in the bush cutting wood for the writing schools, proving to publishers that Native people could and would read, let alone produce books. They’re starting the circles, gatherings and classes that would get us to where we are today. Besides the fact that they are brilliant writers and thinkers, Lee and Maria have gifted us with the stage on which we now dance and yell and rhyme. How lucky are we that our elders are with us as we move into this bright new era of Indigenous story?

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