My Name is Kieran Smith

And I made a mistake.

A month ago I released my Summer reading list, and included on that list was Joseph Boyden’s ‘Through Black Spruce’, a novel by an author I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I am extremely conflicted in writing this. I have some feelings, and I hope I am able to convey them.

When I released my list my very talented sister-in-law Nicole Dawe had some nice things to say, but among it was something that took me off guard,

“I loved it (despite the controversies around this particular author of late)”.

Admittedly I should have done my research then, had a conversation about it, and worked some feelings out. Instead, I sat on it. It did not really bother me, but as I was working through my reading pile I knew I would have to address it.

Can you truly separate a work of fiction from the author? Can the work stand on its own? Should you worry about social issues surrounding it? I’ve been told countless times in university to take the works as they are presented, but I can’t help but to gravitate toward biographies of authors. For example, ‘Ender’s Game’ comes to mind. I absolutely loved that book, and I would recommend it to anyone who was looking to read some sci-fi. After doing some more reading up on the author, Orson Scott Card I came to the understanding that he was vehemently opposed to same sex marriage. Here I was recommending a novel by an individual who opposes what I think should be a basic human right.

I was conflicted. How could I enjoy this novel written by someone who had diametrically opposing views as me. And yes, I totally understand that there may be no hidden agenda in ‘Ender’s Game’ about same sex marriage, but why should I spend my money supporting an individual that has these shitty views.

I recently started ‘Through Black Spruce’ by Joseph Boyden, and I have been enjoying it. Then, last night Maclean’s publishes this piece by Boyden:

And suddenly the controversy became clear. In December the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reporter Jorge Barrera launched an investigation into the indigenous ancestry of Boyden. Boyden says since the controversy happened he has spoken with indigenous elders and they have told him he is going through a ‘rite of passage’. I read the piece, and thought, ‘Okay he is telling his side of the story’ , but then I read some of the reaction towards it, and it has been mixed. There is no doubt that Boyden has been a loud voice for indigenous rights in this country, but as Wab Kinew put it,

“Already some non-indigenous readers are asking if they should read his work. His novels remain powerful. But they were always the work of a talented outsider. Even if he is Anishinaabe, he is not a member of the nations he wrote about — the Mushkegowuk, the Huron, the Haudenosaunee. Recognizing the distinctions will inform readers. So, yes, read Joseph Boyden. But also read authors who have lived a more indigenous experience.” -Wab Kinew

And this is where I am conflicted. I’ve been recommended and have recommended Boyden’s work as fantastic indigenous authorship, but I can’t continue to do that if indigenous peoples are at odds with his representation.

I feel the need to apologise because instead of going to indigenous friends and asking for their recommendations I have been reliant upon Chapters/CBC/Scotia Bank to tell me prime examples of indigenous authorship. I’ll be more prudent in the future.

Further Reading:

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