How writing From the Ashes helped Canada Reads author Jesse Thistle make sense of his past
Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree scholar from Prince Albert, Sask., and currently an assistant professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto.
Thistle's From the Ashes chronicles a journey that begins in a Saskatchewan community and leads to the streets of Toronto. In his authorial debut, Thistle combines poetry and memoir to share the intimate story of how he overcame addiction and homelessness to become a decorated Indigenous academic.
Country singer George Canyon is defending From the Ashes on Canada Reads 2020.
Canada Reads will take place July 20-23.
Thistle spoke with Radio West host Sarah Penton about what it was like having From the Ashes be part of Canada Reads.
Writing to move forward
"It hurt at first. I was trying to reconnect with memories and a lot of it was traumatic. I didn't understand it and writing my life out in these small fragments through my AA program — which eventually became my book — was very healing. I could see all those things made sense in this larger narrative of my life.
It hurt at first. I was trying to reconnect with memories and a lot of it was traumatic.- Jesse Thistle
"It's been cathartic. It's been a beautiful process of reconnecting with my old self and then forgiving a lot of what happened in the past — and moving forward and being the best person that I can be today.
"It's been very healing. I'm hoping that when people read my book they can also get a measure of healing and understanding and fellowship — and see that they're not alone."
"There was a girl whose heart I broke when I was in high school and I didn't mean to. I was just a young kid who was doing drugs and I ended up breaking her heart. She contacted me and she understands why I did what I did. We made amends and this is 24 years later.
I'm hoping that when people read my book they can also get a measure of healing and understanding and fellowship and see that they're not alone- Jesse Thistle
"There's a scene in my book where I'm stealing from the Centennial Flame fountain on Parliament Hill. There's an RCMP officer who guarded the fountain who I say let me do it. They probably just felt sorry for me and let me get away with a little change.
"Well, I got an email about a couple of weeks ago. There's a cop that remembers doing that with somebody that would do that at the fountain. I don't know if it was me or not, and neither does the police officer, but to have him thinking about the kind of person that does that, who I was in the past and getting a measure of empathy from that person's situation from my book — that's all the reward in the world."
The Canada Reads 2020 contenders
- 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
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