Books·Personal Essay

Joshua Whitehead reflects on Indigeneity & queerness in Making Love with the Land — read an excerpt now

The book is a finalist for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022.

The book is a finalist for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Making Love with the Land is a book by Joshua Whitehead. (Knopf Canada)

Joshua Whitehead's latest book, Making Love with the Land, will be a personal work of nonfiction that employs a range of genres — essay, memoir, notes and confession — to explore queerness, Indigeneity and community work, as well as mental and physical health.

Whitehead's 2018 novel Jonny Appleseed won Canada Reads 2021championed by actor Devery Jacobs.

"Making Love with the Land was a project guided by these words from Jonny Appleseed: How do we make love to our pain?" said Whitehead in a statement to CBC Books.

"It's a reflection on the costs carried on the body, particularly for queer and/or Indigenous writers who are at the forefront of CanLit right now. It's a reflection on how literature can be voyeuristic, how memoir is boudoir; and on the blazing kaleidoscopic wounds we carry as intergenerational survivors of ongoing physical and cultural genocide."

Whitehead is a two-spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw Indigiqueer scholar, poet, nonfiction writer and novelist from Peguis First Nation. Jonny Appleseedthe story of a young Indigiqueer cyber-sex worker, earned him national recognition — getting longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award and winning a Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction.

Making Love with the Land helped Whitehead "move out of the shadow of Jonny."

"I thought the best way I could help not only myself, but also my communities and readers, would be to remove the mask of narrative and step onto the page as Joshua — for me to tell you about my experiences with mental health so that you might find the courage to talk about yours too," said Whitehead. 

"It isn't an easy book, but I chewed seedling throughout and spat it into the ink and fibres of this book so that you'd find medicine, even as you navigate the dark recesses of my life."

Making Love with the Land is one of five books shortlisted for the 2022 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The $60,000 prize annually recognizes the best nonfiction book in Canada. It's the biggest prize for nonfiction in the country. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022.

Read an excerpt from Making Love with the Land from the essay My Aunties are Wolverines below.


I'm listening to Lady Gaga's Joanne, thinking about why it has become a standard song of NDN karaoke: one need only replace the name "Joanne" with (fill in the blank) to participate in mourning the constant loss of kin we now call ancestor. Joanne is dedicated to Gaga's aunt, who died at 19 from lupus, and I think it's one of the most beautiful songs ever writ­ten. I'm listening to it right now, nikâwîs, my auntie, and writing this for you — and I'm having a hard time staying composed. There have been times, more so of late, when I'll fall into the pit of this song and won't climb out for days. I can't tell you how many times its phrases have rung in my ears, and I have collapsed. I do this in the shower often, as the water and the tears run down and blend into me, by which maybe I mean nourish me, because this is when you feel most real to me again: when those memories loop through me like a basket and I am held, softly, warmly, kindly beneath beads of water that animate me, make me living story. I write this now because I have never let you go, and I hope, nikâwîs, you'll stay with me as I go?

I write this now because I have never let you go, and I hope, nikâwîs, you'll stay with me as I go?

Sometimes I listen to Joanne when I go for walks on my own, because I need to think, in the bone hours of the night. I mourn in latitudes, slowly, widely. I mourn as the bough waits for its ice to melt from its branchlet, weighted down by a grav­ity foreign to its own. On these walks I remember you, nikâwîs, in all your beauty and razing. I walk through Forest Lawn, which everyone here calls the poor part of town but which I like, because the houses in their little nooks remind me of the housing projects we used to live in, across from one another, where brown and black kids screamed in delight and ran across the roads holding hands. I find you there in the fields waving at me, the sound of softball cracking in the distance, your hair caught in the setting sun, dancing and ablaze in fringe and quillwork. On those walks I pass birch trees in the night, spindles of mistik lit so softly they look like spiderwebs, their shadows cascading across me — and here, even in the crisp month of January, I know you hold me in the weaving of shadows, that inverse plane, that spirit world, and I meet you in the unreserved, that meek mink kiss that only snow can afford.

I mourn in latitudes, slowly, widely.

Did you know, nikâwîs, that birch are a pioneer species of tree, named so because of their ability to grow on uncolonized lands, like a hinterland, an ode wrapped up in the peeling of their paperskin? Did you know that birch trees are a monoicous plant, which means they bloom unisexually and bisexually? Did you know the word "monoicous" comes from the Greek, meaning single and house? What a divine sign, I think, a single house, bough a burlesque practice, fluid sexuality, wildly gendered. The birch's samara reminds me of your hair, nikâwîs, tied into its braid, housing masculinity and feminin­ity in equilibrium.

Are you that birch tree staring down at me?


Excerpted from My Aunties are Wolverines in Making Love with the Land by Joshua Whitehead. Copyright ©2022 Joshua Whitehead. Published by Knopf Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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