Canada Reads

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Indigenous writer Joshua Whitehead's Johnny Appleseed is a sex-positive novel featuring a young two-spirit person trying to put his life back together after the death of his stepdad.

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead won Canada Reads 2021, when it was championed by Devery Jacobs

Devery Jacobs is championing Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead. (Submitted by Devery Jacobs)

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead won Canada Reads 2021, when it was championed by Devery Jacobs.

About Jonny Appleseed

"You're gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine" is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young two-spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling novel. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the "rez," and his former life, to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The next seven days are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum. Jonny's world is a series of breakages, appendages and linkages — and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life. 

Jonny Appleseed is a unique, shattering vision of Indigenous life, full of grit, glitter and dreams. (From Arsenal Pulp Press)

Jonny Appleseed was on the longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. It also won the Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction.

Why Joshua Whitehead wrote Jonny Appleseed

"Jonny is a character that's been with me since I was 17 or 18. He's this little kid obsessed with the beatniks and problem novels like Go Ask Alice. He came from poems that I excised from full-metal indigiqueer. When I took those little poems and planted them into this new idea for a story, Jonny took the stage and was like, 'Here I am — write me into the world.' 

Jonny is the better parts of me, hyperbolized. From that came this shiny, glittered figure of light for myself.- Joshua Whitehead

"A lot of people are reading him as this hyper-confident, super-suave swindling character. But I had to craft a two-spirit character who has pain, but who is triumphant in that pain, shifting it into love. Jonny is the better parts of me, hyperbolized. From that came this shiny, glittered figure of light for myself."

Read more in his interview with The Next Chapter.

Watch the Canada Reads trailer for Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Canada Reads 2021: Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

1 year ago
Duration 1:02
Devery Jacobs is championing Jonny Appleseed on Canada Reads 2021.

Interviews with Joshua Whitehead

Devery Jacobs on the beauty and hope in Jonny Appleseed

1 year ago
Duration 0:40
Devery Jacobs on the beauty and hope in Jonny Appleseed
Canada Reads champions Devery Jacobs and Joshua Whitehead joined Tom Power to talk about winning this year's battle of the books with Whitehead's debut novel Jonny Appleseed.
The term "two-spirit" has only been around for about 30 years, but it's an identity with ancient roots. This week on Unreserved, meet Indigenous people who are walking the two-spirit path with pride and reclaiming their place in cultural and community circles. Anishinaabe elder Myra Laramee was gifted the words "two-spirit" in a dream in 1990. She took these words to an annual gathering of Indigenous LGBTQ people, who adopted the term. Alex Wilson is from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and is a professor in the college of education at the University of Saskatchewan. She has devoted her career to understanding two-spirit identity, how it's rooted in the land and how "coming in" (as opposed to coming out) is a uniquely Indigenous experience. Chantal Fiola and Nicki Ferland are a two-spirit Métis couple living in Winnipeg. They tell the story of their traditional Midewiwin wedding ceremony. Joshua Whitehead's debut novel Jonny Appleseed won Canada Reads 2021. The two-spirit/Indigiqueer writer from Peguis First Nation is representing two-spirit characters in his writing as real, honest and whole. In doing so, he's paving the way for the next generation of two-spirit people to accept — and love — who they are.
Joshua Whitehead on his debut novel "Jonny Appleseed."

From the book

I figured that I was gay when I was eight. I stayed up late after everyone went to bed and watched Queer as Folk on my kokum's TV. She had a satellite and all the channels, pirated of course. At the time, my mom and I were living with my kokum because my dad had left us thinking he was Dolly Parton or Garth Brooks or something. Queer as Folk aired at midnight on Showcase; I muted the channel, added subtitles, and watched as four gay men lived their lives in Pittsburgh. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to have lofts and go to gay bars and dance with cute boys and blow and get blown in a Philly gloryhole. I wanted to work in comic shops and universities, be sexy and rich. I wanted that.


From Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead ©2018. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Other books by Joshua Whitehead

The Canada Reads 2021 contenders

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