Canada Reads

Michael Greyeyes can dance, act, direct — now he's ready to show us he can debate on Canada Reads

The actor, director and choreographer will add "Canada Reads panellist" to his resume March 27-30.

The actor, dancer, director and choreographer will add 'Canada Reads panellist' to his resume March 27-30

A book cover featuring a white tent under a night sky and a photo of a man with a braid wearing a dress shirt sitting sideways and looking at the camera.
Actor Michael Greyeyes is championing the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. (CBC)
In this introduction to the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, discover what the book is about and why actor, director and choreographer Michael Greyeyes chose it for Canada Reads 2023.

Actor, dancer, director and choreographer Michael Greyeyes is championing the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel on Canada Reads 2023!

The great Canadian book debate will take place on March 27-30. This year, we are looking for one book to shift your perspective. 

The debates will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC GemCBC Listen and on CBC Books

The debates will take place live at 10:05 a.m. ET (that's an hour earlier than recent years!). You can tune in live or catch a replay on the platform of your choice. You can see all the broadcast details here.

An eerily prescient novel

A blue book cover featuring white tents under a starry sky.

Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that takes place on an Earth undone by disease, following the interconnected lives of several characters — actors, artists and those closest to them — before and after the plague. One travels the wasteland performing Shakespearean plays with a troupe, while another attempts to build community at an abandoned airport and another amasses followers for a dangerous cause.

St. John Mandel is a bestselling Canadian author currently living in New York and Los Angeles. Her other novels include The Glass Hotelwhich was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Sea of Tranquility which was one of two Canadian books on Barack Obama's list of favourite books of 2022

"I thought that it would be a book set in the present day. I knew I wanted to write about the life of an actor. I was interested in the idea of what it means to devote your life to your art. I thought it would be a quiet, literary novel about an actor in present-day Canada ... but there was something else that I have really been wanting to write about for a while. And that was the awe that I feel at this world in which we find ourselves. You read the headlines and, of course, a lot of things about this world are absolutely unspeakable and appalling," St. John Mandel said in an interview with The Next Chapter in 2015.

I wanted to write about this extraordinary place and time in which we find ourselves. One way to write about something is to write about its absence.- Emily St. John Mandel

"We are surrounded by a level of infrastructure and technology that at any other point in human history would have seemed absolutely miraculous. I wanted to write about this extraordinary place and time in which we find ourselves. One way to write about something is to write about its absence. I was thinking about Station Eleven as a love letter to the modern world, written in the form of a requiem."

LISTEN | Emily St. John Mandel discusses Station Eleven with Shelagh Rogers:

The author of "Station Eleven" on her bestselling debut novel, and why post-apocalyptic fiction is all the rage. (Broadcast date: May 11, 2015)

Station Eleven got renewed attention in 2020 and 2021, thanks first to the COVID-19 global pandemic, then because of a critically acclaimed TV adaptation for HBO Max. It can be seen on Crave TV in Canada. 

St. John Mandel, who was not involved in the making of the TV show, believes that the book and the adaptation got attention because of the fundamental message of joy and hope.

"What I've seen play out on social media is that people do seem to be finding it unexpectedly cathartic. I think what Patrick Somerville, the creator and showrunner of the Station Eleven series did, in a really impressive way, was retain the sense of joy and hope that I believe exists in the novel," Mandel told Tom Power on Q. "It is a hopeful story about life continuing after a pandemic."

LISTEN | Emily St. John Mandel on the TV adaptation of Station Eleven:

Reading the description of the new HBO Max miniseries Station Eleven feels a bit eerie. The story is set in the future after a deadly flu pandemic has wiped out 99.9 per cent of the world’s population — and yet the post-apocalyptic series has somehow become comfort viewing for many in the era of COVID-19. Tom Power caught up with Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel, who wrote the novel the series was based on.

The 2014 requiem took on new relevance when COVID-19 hit. Mandel weathered the pandemic in New York City where she said it became "disorienting" watching what she had researched for a book become reality. 

"It turns out it's one thing to travel around the U.S. giving a lecture that contains the line, 'there will always be another pandemic,' which I had been doing for years; it's something quite different to experience that reality," she said on The Next Chapter in February 2023

While the novel bears a prescient quality, Station Eleven is still a work of speculative fiction. In fact, in conversation with Greyeyes, Mandel said she considers the work a hopeful read somewhat counter to the tropes she feels have come to define the post-apocalyptic genre. 

"Around the time I started writing Station Eleven, it seemed that the genre was basically just horror set after the end of the world," the author said to Greyeyes

"So often post-apocalyptic novels, films or TV series are set in the immediate aftermath of the end of the world — this period of absolute mayhem, chaos and horror. It's not that I don't think that would happen — I think it absolutely would. [But] it's not plausible to me that that would last forever, at least not everywhere on Earth, because that's not sustainable."

WATCH | Emily St. John Mandel and Michael Greyeyes discuss Station Eleven and their love for dystopian fiction: 

Actor, dancer, director ... and now book debater

Michael Greyeyes is a Nêhiyaw actor, choreographer and director from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. Greyeyes has been performing for over 30 years, first as a dancer then as an actor.

He played Sitting Bull in Woman Walks Ahead with Jessica Chastain. He battled zombie hordes as Traylor in Blood Quantum, a role for which he won a Canadian Screen Award for best actor in 2021. He can also be seen in the TV shows True Detective, I Know This Much Is True and Rutherford Falls. And in 2010, he founded the transdisciplinary and intercultural performance company Signal Theatre.

LISTEN | Michael Greyeyes reflects on his prolific career:

The Plains Cree actor and performer from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan has appeared in more than 50 films and TV shows, ranging from prominent Indigenous leaders like Sitting Bull to Gooch in Dance Me Outside, one of his most well-known roles.

On Rutherford Falls, Greyeyes played Terry Thomas, the CEO of the Running Thunder Casino and part of the fictional Minishonkan community, which lives side by side with non-Indigenous residents. Greyeyes' performance gained widespread attention after a powerful speech from Terry about capitalism and community. The CEO talks about fighting to ensure the practices and language of his people survive and learning the hard way the nature of power in the United States. 

"I'm proud that the work that I do is public. I hope it makes an impact not only for my [daughters] but for other people," Greyeyes told Falen Johnson on Unreserved

A book about a pandemic after a pandemic? Yes please

Greyeyes says choosing a book to defend on Canada Reads 2023 was a "daunting task." Then, he realized, when given the choice, he always gravitates towards dystopian novels. 

"Novels are totally unique. They're not novellas. They're not short stories or screenplays. They're the densest construction of literary writing we have and beautiful novels can never be fully mined," Greyeyes said in an interview with CBC Books

Greyeyes was first introduction to Station Eleven when he watched the 10-episode TV adaptation. His students at York University told him if he loved the show, he should definitely read the book - and they were right. Greyeyes thought Station Eleven was a magnificent work of literature, but also very relevent to readers now as we navigate life after the CVOID-19 pandemic.

"Station Eleven is an extraordinary journey into the things that hold us together — into our dreams and the things so dear to us we cannot leave them behind. The novel follows five incredible characters set against the collapse of civilization," Greyeyes told Q in his 30-second pitch.

Station Eleven is an extraordinary journey into the things that hold us together — into our dreams and the things so dear to us we cannot leave them behind.- Michael Greyeyes on Station Eleven

"Written years before the pandemic, Station Eleven imagines a future ravaged by something even worse and how people so much like us found their way through."

LISTEN | The Canada Reads 2023 contenders speak with CBC Radio's Q:

Canada Reads is next week! Michael Greyeyes is championing Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. He explains why this dystopian novel is the one all of Canada should read.

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