Canada Reads finalist Eden Robinson on the importance of representation and getting it right
Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson has published novels, poems and short stories. Robinson's work depicts the everyday lives of Indigenous people in coastal B.C, often infusing an element of dark humour. Her debut novel, Monkey Beach, set in her hometown of Kitimat, B.C., was nominated for the 2000 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Son of a Trickster, a coming-of-age novel, follows a teenager named Jared Martin in Kitimat, B.C., who over the course of the story discovers that he is the son of a trickster. The novel features characters from traditional Haisla mythology and is set in the present day. It was on the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist.
Reviving the past
"My dad was telling my niece and nephew trickster stories and they couldn't really understand why they were funny because they didn't grow up on the coast on trickster stories. They're out in Ontario. I thought that was sad and I wanted to try to write a short story that brought the trickster into the present and hopefully spoke to them.
I wanted to try to write a short story that brought the trickster into the present and hopefully spoke to them.- Eden Robinson
"The Haisla trickster is Wee'git and he is a transforming raven. In any of the potlatch cultures on the coast, we have protocol. The trickster character was one of the stories that taught us about the proper way to do things by breaking all the rules. So when I was growing up, after dinner the aunties, uncles and cousins would get together around the kitchen table and we'd all be drinking and smoking and drinking coffee and having dessert. Then the family would compete to tell the wildest, fastest, craziest, funniest trickster stories, and we'd all be laughing and laughing. That's kind of what I wanted in my novel."
The power of representation
"It is modern and it is youth, and it's also a lot of rural and resource issues. When I was writing the book, I didn't see a lot of that in novels and I knew from my experience with Monkey Beach that people always appreciate it when they see their communities in the literary world. People from my reserve would get really excited when they saw things about Monkey Beach. Wasn't sure how Trickster was going to go down because it was kind of nuts, but it seems to be going OK.
People always appreciate it when they see their communities in the literary world.- Eden Robinson
"When you watch a movie and it's set in your town, you'll look for all the landmarks. So I was getting a lot of feedback. My dad for instance said it was good, but the thing he didn't like about it was that there weren't any sasquatches in it, so for the third book there's a gratuitous sasquatch scene.
"I felt a lot of pressure to get it right. Anytime I was touching on cultural material, I felt a deep need to hit the notes properly. So I brought cousins into the consultation pretty early, they were reading rough drafts. And I'm very lucky that my family is blunt, so if there is something that I was getting wrong or interpreting weirdly, they would just tell me. I was very grateful for their feedback.
I felt a lot of pressure to get it right.- Eden Robinson
"Son of a Trickster is speaking to an experience in Canada that is more rural. It's the inclusion of people who are just scraping by in what everyone else seems to think of as the boonies. That was really important to me and I hope that the complexity of the characters is coming through."
- Alayna Fender defending Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
- Akil Augustine defending Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
- Amanda Brugel defending We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
- Kaniehtiio Horn defending Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
- George Canyon defending From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle