Books

5 books that inspired storyteller and writer Ivan Coyote

Coyote says their storytelling craft has been shaped by two things: a love of reading and growing up listening to the "hundreds of stories" their grandmother told.
Rebent Sinner is a nonfiction book by Ivan Coyote. (Emily Cooper, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Ivan Coyote is a filmmaker, writer and storyteller from Whitehorse. Coyote says their storytelling craft has been shaped by two things: a love of reading and growing up listening to the "hundreds of stories" their grandmother would tell the family around the kitchen table. 

Rebent Sinner is an essay collection from various aspects of Coyote's life: helping younger LGBTQ folks, paying homage to their heroes, dealing with legislation and governments and being part of protests. Rebent Sinner is about Coyote's journey and shares a message of resilience, inclusion and hope.

Coyote's previous memoir, Tomboy Survival Guidewas a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction in 2017.

Here are the five books that have shaped Coyote's life and career.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

A film adaptation of Harriet the Spy starring Michelle Trachtenberg came out in 1996. (Paramount Pictures, Puffin Modern Classics)

"It's a book about a little girl, kind of a tomboy (I was inspired by this depiction, although it's not overt) and an aspiring writer, who follows a daily 'spy route' and observes her classmates, neighbours and friends, and then writes down her observations. I was obsessed by this novel as a kid. I stitched together my own spy belt, and started taking notes about the comings and goings of people on my own little street in Whitehorse.

I stitched together my own spy belt, and started taking notes about the comings and goings of people on my own little street in Whitehorse.- Ivan Coyote

"I even got stung repeatedly after knocking my head into a wasp's nest in a willow tree, while rapidly retreating from a mission 'observing' the guy in the townhouses one block over get amorous with his girlfriend in a kiddie pool in his backyard. This book made me into a noticer. It taught me to watch people and listen and that even the commonplace happenings in my little northern town were rife with stories and riddled with humanity."

Woman On the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is a prolific feminist, science fiction writer. (Ballantine Books)

"I came across this book because I was dating a woman who was a university student, and she was taking a class called Feminist Utopias or something like that. I was working waiting tables and landscaping at the time. But I read all of her homework at night and I fell for this book, hard. It was originally published in 1976, and is speculative science fiction about a Mexican-American woman who is unjustly incarcerated in a mental hospital because she can communicate with a time traveller who lives in a post-apocalyptic society that has adopted many of the goals of the political and social agenda of the 1960s and early 1970s radical movements.

This book unscrewed the top of my head and blew possibility and revolution into it.- Ivan Coyote

"This future had dismantled the patriarchy, racism, homophobia, class subordination, hunger, capitalism, property crime, pollution, etc. This book unscrewed the top of my head and blew possibility and revolution into it. I still think of this society every time I feel overwhelmed by the state of the world today. I read it like a roadmap, like instructions. In fact, I should probably read it again soon."

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Katherine Dunn was an Oregon-based novelist and boxing journalist. (Vintage, Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images)

"This book filled me with a sense of joy at the act of writing as play, at the ability of an author to just completely fabricate a whole world, with its own values and realities, far-fetched and bizarre and impossible, and yet still so completely human, and, at the core of this literal circus side-show of a family, fundamentally about belonging, and blood and history and custom and tradition and loyalty and betrayal and just what we inherit and what we must cast aside to become ourselves."

Angel Wing Splash Pattern by Richard Van Camp

Richard Van Camp is a Dogrib Tłı̨chǫ writer of the Dene nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. (Kegedonce Press, William Au)

"I first heard Richard read aloud from this book, we were both doing a gig in a library in Winnipeg, and I bought it that day. I think this is the best way to be introduced to the work of a writer like Richard Van Camp. I carried his voice and diction in my head as I read the rest of the book in one sitting.

I think this is the best way to be introduced to the work of a writer like Richard Van Camp. I carried his voice and diction in my head as I read the rest of the book in one sitting.- Ivan Coyote

"This book spoke to me, to my ears as a fellow Northerner, to my brain as a lover of reading and writing short stories and to my heart, as it is both starkly honest and raw about depicting life as a young Dogrib man in Fort Smith, N.W.T., while never forgetting the awkward joy of just being: being a teenager, being a son, being a brother. These stories are sometimes achingly funny, and surrounded by neighbours and family and dysfunction and perfection and healing." 

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

Lidia Yuknavitch is an American writer, teacher and editor. (Hawthorne Books, lidiayuknavitch.net)

"This is a memoir about survival. It's about a childhood thrown from its path and destination by violence and abuse, and it touches her grief and loss and addiction and messiness. But what I loved about this book is what surfaces, what floats. It is mercilessly beautiful writing about finally owning one's body and love and motherhood and the bonds we forge in all the chaos of life.

It is mercilessly beautiful writing about finally owning one's body, and love, and motherhood, and the bonds we forge in all the chaos of life.- Ivan Coyote

"This is the heart turned inside out. It's a life written down without artifice, without pretention, without apology and not curated for easy consumption. This book reminded me to put on my bravest clothes before sitting down to write."

Ivan Coyote's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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