Books

Playwright and poet Daniel David Moses dead at 68

The Delaware playwright, poet, editor and educator was a groundbreaking voice in Indigenous literature.
Daniel David Moses was a playwright and poet. (Submitted by Playwrights Canada Press, Exile Editions)

Playwright and poet Daniel David Moses, a groundbreaking voice for Indigenous writers in Canada, has died. Queen's University, where Moses was a professor emeritus, confirmed this with CBC Books.

He died on Monday, July 13. He was 68 years old.

Moses was born on Feb. 18, 1952. Moses, who was Delaware, grew up on a dairy farm on Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario.

Moses would get his undergraduate degree at York University and would go on to receive his MFA from the University of British Columbia.

"My father joked that I only got an education so that I could escape the hard work of farming," Moses told Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in 2013. 

He was curious about the world and about words from a young age. "My perceptions of the world are very formed by wanting to know how it all makes sense, this reality we live in. I was a kid who read a lot of science fiction, so I'm also very much formed by the knowledge that our culture has gained through science, that practice that doesn't address the spiritual. There is still mystery."

Over the course of more than 30 years, he would write more than a dozen plays and four poetry collections.

Coyote City was his first play, and it was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for drama in 1991.

Coyote City is about a young Indigenous woman named Lena who is searching for her missing lover. It was the first of four plays in Moses's City Plays series, which focused on an Indigenous family as they experience the tensions between their rural homeland and living in the city — tensions Moses felt himself throughout his life. The other City Plays are Big Buck City, Kyotopolis and City of Shadows.

His other plays include The Witch of NiagaraThe Dreaming Beauty and The Indian Medicine Shows.

The Dreaming Beauty, an Indigenous retelling of Sleeping Beauty, won the 1990 Theatre Canada National Playwrighting Competition.

He published his first poem in 1974 and would go on to publish four collections throughout his career: Delicate BodiesThe White LineSixteen Jesuses and A Small Essay on the Largeness of Light and Other Poems.

His poetry also appeared in journals and magazines like Exile, Prairie Fire, Impulse and the Fiddlehead.

He also published an essay collection called Pursued by a Bear: Talks, Monologues and Tales.

He spoke to Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in 2013, shortly after the publication of A Small Essay on the Largeness of Light and Other Poems, a collection that explored contemporary Indigenous life.

The playwright and poet spoke to Shelagh Rogers in 2013. 14:02

Much of Moses work explored his Indigenous identity and the impact of colonization.

"I found myself compelled by the history. I realized how protected I had been growing up," he said on The Next Chapter. "The difficult history of Aboriginal people in Canada was not something we spoke about. It lurked in the background. I wanted to try to understand that."

Several prominent writers and journalists expressed their condolences online, including Drew Hayden Taylor, Jesse Wente, and Janet Marie Rogers, as well as The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers.

Actor and director Michael Greyeyes reflected on starring in Moses's play Almighty Voice & His Wife for Native Earth Performing Arts on Instagram.

"This play spoke to me as no other play had EVER done and continues to inspire and challenge me to this day. I am grateful to have known him. Grateful for his leadership and kindness," Greyeyes wrote.

In 1993, he co-edited An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, alongside Terry Goldie and Armand Garnet Ruffo. The textbook is considered one of the foundational texts for Canadian Indigenous literature.

In 2001, he was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize, an annual award administered by the Toronto International Festival of Authors that recognizes an author's contribution to the Canadian literary community. 

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