February 8, 2017: Writing Life In Conversation with Eden Robinson
Bryan Prince Bookseller and The Centre for Community Engaged Narrative Arts (CCENA) joined to launch a new Writing Life series. This series will feature a Canadian writer in conversation with a McMaster University PhD candidate (in this case, Kaitlin Debicki, Mohawk, Wolf Clan). Each guest author will discuss their latest book and specific social and cultural components that inform their work, as well as their life as a writer.
Our inaugural guest was Eden Robinson who visited Hamilton to talk about her new novel, Son of a Trickster. Robinson is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer, and is the recipient of the 2016 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for her body of work. She is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations.
Listen to Kaitlin and Eden’s conversation about growing up with stories, listening to one’s community, and writing a good book:
As a Native Canadian writer, Eden Robinson joins the ranks of novelists Thomas King, Tomson Highway, Richard Wagamese and Lee Maracle, non-fiction author and poet Gregory Scofield, and playwrights Daniel David Moses and Drew Hayden Taylor in describing Native traditions and modern realities with beautiful, honest language and biting black humour.
Robinson grew up in Haisla territory near Kitamaat Village, surrounded by the forests and mountains of the central coast of British Columbia. After earning her B.A., Eden Robinson moved to Vancouver to look for work that would allow her to spend time writing. A late-night writer, she ended up taking “a lot of McJobs” –janitor, mail clerk, napkin ironer. She decided to enter the masters program at the University of British Columbia after having a short story published in its literary magazine PRISM international. Traplines was the young woman’s first book, a collection of dark and brutal stories that feature a deadpan, gritty humour. While Eden was finishing work on the book, her paternal grandmother died; Eden feels the knowledge of real grief affected her writing. The book was published in 1996 and won the UK’s Winifred Holtby prize.
Eden Robinson has become one of Canada’s first female Native writers to gain international attention, making her an important role model. Her second book, Monkey Beach evinces a love of her culture – Robinson maintains that if you don’t grow up on Oolichan grease, you’re not going to learn to love it, never mind make it; and if you grow up on supermarket vegetables, you’ re not going to learn when and where to find salmonberry shoots. She has used her celebrity to draw attention in Time magazine to the Canadian government’s chipping away at Native health care, and to the lack of subsidized housing for urban Natives. This limited housing leads to overcrowding on reserves, where there is little access to jobs. Robinson argues that Natives forfeited rights and land for just these types of government services. Eden Robinson has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Whitehorse Public Library, and will be working with the Writers in Electronic Residence program, which links schools across the country with professional writers.