Monique Gray Smith wants everyone to read 'a variety of lived experiences and perspectives'
Monique Gray Smith often speaks about strength and resiliance of Indigenous communities in Canada. The mixed-heritage — Cree, Lakota and Scottish — author's latest children's book, You Hold Me Up, is illustrated by Danielle Daniel and seeks to teach young people about fostering empathy and building relationships with one another.
Below, Smith takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
1. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Who helped you most in becoming a writer? How?"
There are many who have helped me, but two stand out. The first is Julie Paul. I started writing when I took one of her writing classes. She encouraged me to keep writing and then worked as an editor with me on my first book, a self-published novel called Hope, Faith and Empathy.
The second person who helped, and continues to be a beacon for me, is Richard Van Camp. His spirit of generosity and feedback have been sources of inspiration and determination for me. He believed in me when I didn't even believe in myself and for that, I will always be grateful.
2. Eden Robinson asks, "What was the most unexpected inspiration you've ever had?"
My family and I went to Gabriola Island to visit a friend. Her dog, Sam, kept barking at any little thing that moved or made a noise. While I initially found Sam's barking to be annoying, it sparked an idea for a story. That story became a novella called Lucy and Lola, in which three generations of women share intergenerational impacts, healing and their resiliency of surviving Residential schools. And yes, there is a dog named Sam in the story.
I feel blessed that Lucy and Lola is one of two novellas in The Journey Forward, along with a beautiful story by Richard Van Camp. The Journey Forward is being released in February 2018.
3. Jowita Bydlowska asks, "What does it mean to take a risk as a writer, and how do you feel about it?"
I feel like anytime I put my writing out there, whether it be a published piece or a piece that I send to a friend, it's a risk. Writing for me is personal.
4. Vivek Shraya asks, "What has been the most surprising question you have been asked at a Q&A/writer event/panel?
Oddly enough, it was from a fellow writer who asked me why I had to always be talking about the importance of reading books written by women and LGBTQ writers. He told me I should just be happy that people are reading our books at all. I think he was hoping it would shut me up. Unfortunately for him, it's done the opposite. If we are to strengthen our society — and reading is one way to do this — then we must be reading a variety of lived experiences and perspectives.
5. Aviaq Johnston asks, "What is your favourite thing to hear from people who have read your work?"
It's when a young girl comes up to me and tells me she is on the cover of my book, My Heart Fills with Happiness, or when a woman says, "I felt like you were telling my story in Tilly." There is something truly magical and affirming for an Indigenous girl/woman to see and experience themselves not only represented in a book, but on the cover. If you go to the library or bookstore and look for girls on the front of books, and girls who are Indigenous or of colour, you will see what I mean.
6. Melanie Mah asks, "What are your daily rituals other than writing?"
There are a couple things I do at the beginning and end of each day. In the morning, before I get out of bed, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the safe passage through the night and for the gift of living another day. At night, I spend time with my twins listening to how their day went and asking, "What was the hardest part of the day and what was the best part?" They are 14 now and this time with each of them is one way I keep connected to them and the comings and goings of their busy teen lives.
7. Nick Mount asks, "Should books by Canadians be required reading in high school? Why?"
Yes, but we must also ensure that the books selected to be read in school are equally represented by female and LGBTQ writers. Far too often when I'm in classrooms the majority of the books being read are written by men. We need to ensure our youth are reading a variety of perspectives and experiences.
8. Ray Berard asks, "If you had to pick one novel to hold up to the world, what would it be and why?"
It's not really a novel, but it is my favourite book, Love by Leo Buscaglia. I read this book at least once a year. It has profound teachings about the importance of love and how it can be medicine for us, our families, our communities, our nations and ultimately, the world.