Books·Why I Write

Why Cherie Dimaline calls on her Indigenous heritage as a bestselling storyteller and writer

In this CBC Books series, Canadian authors talk about what literature means to them.

Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. 

In 2017, The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General's Literary Award for Young people's literature — text and the Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature. The Marrow Thieves was defended by Jully Black on Canada Reads 2018. It is currently being adapted for television.

Adult novel Empire of Wild is Dimaline's follow-up; it is inspired by the Métis legend of the werewolf-like rougarou and was selected as Indigo's best book of the year in 2019.

In the Why I Write video series, CBC Books talked to Dimaline about writing YA and adult fiction and why she draws on her Indigenous heritage as a storyteller and writer.

Being a writer

"Being an Indigenous writer is an absolute gift. In my community storytellers are considered leaders, so it's a position with a lot of responsibility. It's a blessing because I get to spend time with so many storytellers and their stories. I get to do that globally now and represent my specific community and my specific story. 

Being an Indigenous writer is an absolute gift.

"At the same time, it's really exhausting. I get on stage or do a presentation and I'm answering questions about the Indian Act and about residential schools and about genocide. Whereas writers who are maybe not from marginalized communities just get to talk about plot and character. I'm always very envious of the ease and energy that they have after events.

"But again, at the same time I wouldn't have it any other way."

Writing YA versus adult fiction

"In writing YA, you write the way that young people live, which is heart first and complete action. Everything is the best day or the worst day. It's very emotionally driven. I don't change the levels. Kids are brilliant and I don't need to sort of dumb anything down or make it simpler. 

In writing YA, you write the way that young people live, which is heart first and complete action.

"In writing for adults, you take more of a complex view: your characters philosophize a bit more and you can talk about some bigger issues up front. It's just about the emotional tone… and also the sex. I get to talk about sex and adult books." 

Advice for the new generation of Canadian writers

"The advice that I would give to emerging writers — especially from Black, Indigenous and other people of colour communities — is stay true to your voice. We desperately need your voice. We desperately need your stories. 

The best thing you can do is keep reading diverse voices. Just read voraciously; read everything.

"The best thing you can do is keep reading diverse voices. Just read voraciously; read everything. And do the work: sit down and get it done and then find a community of storytellers and writers and people who just love you so they can hold you up in those times when it gets a little tiring with the work."

Cherie Dimaline's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

The CBC Books Why I Write series features authors speaking on what literature means to them. You can see all the episodes here.

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