Duncan McCue: 6 books that made a difference in my life
Meet Duncan McCue, the host of CBC Radio's iconic weekend show Cross Country Checkup. CBC viewers already know him as a correspondent on our flagship news show The National and readers may know him as the author of The Shoe Boy. In his own words, McCue describes the six books that have made a major impact on his life — from the book that helped him discover his "Indian-ness" to the Canadian poet who helped him (temporarily) escape the trials of being a teenager.
The Olden Days Coat by Margaret Laurence
"I devoured books as a child. My favourite genre was fantasy. This Canadian children's classic combines time travel and Christmas: what's not to love?
"My mom knew Margaret Laurence and told her how much I liked the story. When the National Film Board of Canada released The Olden Days Coat as a film, Margaret invited us for an exclusive screening in her Lakefield home. Sadly, no one could figure out how to work the audio on the reel-to-reel projector. Margaret was undeterred. When the images began flickering on her living room wall, she narrated it herself with great passion. Her voice, raspy from years of smoking yet deeply feminine, was unforgettable — and made a lasting impression on me about the joy of storytelling."
I Might Not Tell Everybody This by Alden Nowlan
"I was a nerd as a teenager and often felt awkward in the school hallways. I'd escape to the woods to be alone and seek refuge in wilderness. When I first read Alden Nowlan, I felt as if I had found a soul mate. It was his way with language. He didn't sound like a poet — he sounded like a guy I might meet at Tim Horton's. But what really spoke to me was his ability to illuminate the ordinary, his attention to the natural world, and his compassion. It also helped that he had enormous thick glasses like me. I began to write poetry, and I've been a writer of some sort ever since."
Defeathering the Indian by Emma LaRoque
"Back in high school, I was scarfing down pizza with one of my non-Native friends one day and we got to talking about my Ojibway heritage. He said, 'You're the same as me. What's so Indian about you?' I had no answer.
"When I stumbled on Emma LaRoque's plain-language guide for teachers on how Indians get stereotyped in the classroom, I realized Indigenous children have long been subjected to psychological violence: images of what 'Indians' look like and how 'Indians' act have been defined by generations of white men.
"In LaRoque's Defeathering the Indian, she explained the difference between heritage and culture, and how Indians aren't frozen in time but have adapted and changed along with the rest of humanity. I swear, it was as if I'd been struck by lightning. I finally understood I didn't need to wear a headdress or live on a reserve to be an Indian. The book was published in 1975, so it's dated now — but what an empowering lesson it gave me about my Indian-ness."
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
"I read The Wretched of the Earth when I was in university, and it rocked my world. Never before, never since, have I read an author so poignantly and devastatingly describe how crippling colonization is to the human mind. My copy is dog-eared and full of jotted notes with exclamation points: This is just like what happened to First Nations!!!! Fanon's writings about the colonized/colonizer relationship turned me on to African-American literature, which I could relate to through my Indigenous lens."
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Hayley
"Malcolm X's journey was a powerful inspiration to me: his awakening, his determination to fight oppression, his eventual embrace of a universalist message. There are many differences between the struggles of black and Indigenous peoples, but delving into the black experience in Africa and America really helped broaden my perspective on the political status of First Nations in Canada."
One Good Story, That One by Thomas King
"Thomas King is my literary hero: funny, erudite, and unabashedly Indigenous. I was freshly out of law school when this volume of short stories came out, and I loved how he captured the voice of old-time storytellers. It's not easy translating oral tradition into the written form; by doing so, King took us one more step toward mainstream acceptance of Indigenous modes of creative expression.
"I've been blessed to sit and listen and learn from elders from many Nations, and One Good Story, That One reinforced that their teachings were as valuable (if not more so) than all the book learning I was doing in classrooms. But mostly, I'm grateful for how Thomas King makes me laugh out loud."