Books·Canadian

Permanent Astonishment

A book by Tomson Highway.

Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway was born in a snowbank on an island in the sub-Arctic, the eleventh of twelve children in a nomadic, caribou-hunting Cree family. Growing up in a land of ten thousand lakes and islands, Tomson relished being pulled by dogsled beneath a night sky alive with stars, sucking the juices from roasted muskrat tails, and singing country music songs with his impossibly beautiful older sister and her teenaged friends. Surrounded by the love of his family and the vast, mesmerizing landscape they called home, his was in many ways an idyllic far-north childhood. But five of Tomson's siblings died in childhood, and Balazee and Joe Highway, who loved their surviving children profoundly, wanted their two youngest sons, Tomson and Rene, to enjoy opportunities as big as the world. And so when Tomson was six, he was flown south by float plane to attend a residential school. A year later Rene joined him to begin the rest of their education. In 1990 Rene Highway, a world-renowned dancer, died of an AIDS-related illness. Permanent Astonishment: Growing Up in the Land of Snow and Sky is Tomson's extravagant embrace of his younger brother's final words: "Don't mourn me, be joyful." His memoir offers insights, both hilarious and profound, into the Cree experience of culture, conquest, and survival. (From Doubleday Canada)

Permanent Astonishment won the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Highway is a novelist, children's author, playwright and musician. He is a member of the Barren Lands First Nation. His work includes Canadian theatre classics The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, the novel Kiss of the Fur Queen and children's novels Caribou SongDragon Fly Kites and Fox on the Ice.

Why Tomson Highway wrote Permanent Astonishment

"I needed to assess my life. It's a good way to assess your life. I think everybody has a story that's worth writing, you know? Who knows what will become of it. It could be a fluke. My first success was a fluke. 

You don't sit down to write a hit; that's the last thing on your mind. You do it just to clean up your mind.- Tomson Highway

"You don't sit down to write a masterpiece. You don't sit down to write a hit; that's the last thing on your mind. You do it just to clean up your mind. It's like housekeeping for your soul or your spirit. You clean out the cobwebs and the dust and ... take your life into stock. Then if you're lucky, and also you have a very good education, it'll get you somewhere eventually with a tremendous amount of patience. And so I decided to write this book because of that."

Read more in his interview with CBC Books.

Interviews with Thomson Highway

Tomson Highway on Women and Mythology

10 years ago
Duration 13:19
In this talk both profound and funny, novelist and playwright Tomson Highway laments the unequal gender system and the view of life as a curse brought to North America by monotheistic religion. He reminds us that there are other world views where existence on earth is a blessing given by a female divinity. The audience also gets treated to his skills on the piano.

Tomson Highway on his debut novel

24 years ago
Duration 12:07
A profile of author Tomson Highway, on the publication of his first novel, Kiss of the Fur Queen.
Tomson Highway, is a playwright, novelist and music maker whose writing about life on the reserve brought him international fame, awards, and many accolades.

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