Monday March 20, 2017

Eden Robinson on the fluidity of oral stories

Eden Robinson's latest novel, Son of a Trickster, is the first title in a trilogy.

Eden Robinson's latest novel, Son of a Trickster, is the first title in a trilogy. (Knopf/Mark Raynes Roberts )

Listen 16:49

Indigenous writer Eden Robinson grew up on the Haisla Nation Kitamaat reserve on British Columbia's central coast. She rose to literary prominence after her 2000 novel Monkey Beach was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her latest novel, Son of a Trickster, is a contemporary Trickster story told in the voice of Jared, a teenager who drinks and smokes too much and has a tumultuous relationship with his intimidating mother.

Bringing mythic characters into the present day

There were multiple inspirations for this story. In its earliest incarnation, I was in a storytelling festival in Prince George, and I heard the novelist Richard Van Camp tell a story about the women at the All-Native Basketball Tournament. It just tickled me to see characters from our mythology in the present. That hung around in the back of my head for a long time. At the same time, I was writing a collection of short stories about a First Nations dance group forming and collapsing in East Vancouver. One of the stories I was writing involved a young man coming down on a Greyhound bus from a northern community and experiencing Vancouver for the first time. That image just stayed with me.

Living, breathing stories

If you are invited to a potlatch, then you are there as a witness, and the redistribution is payment for your role as a witness. So you're publicly acknowledging the event, and if you are asked about it, you are expected to recount truthfully and honestly what happened at that event. So it's a way of keeping public accountability. A novel is a way, but a novel is static. The stories that I grew up with are fluid. They're living, breathing things that need tending, whereas a novel is its own little encased world. So I think of a novel as something in amber, whereas the oral stories are still alive and flying around.

Eden Robinson's comments have been edited and condensed.