Radio·Proust Questionnaire

Lee Maracle highlights her everyday heroines and favourite literary character

The groundbreaking Indigenous writer reveals why Anna Karenina is her favourite character in fiction, her idea of perfect happiness and more.
Lee Maracle is the author of Talking to the Diaspora. (Columpa Bobb)

Lee Maracle published her first book in 1975. It was an autobiographical novel called Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel and it was one of the first Indigenous works published in Canada. Since then, Maracle has written award-winning and critically acclaimed books in almost every genre. She's also a teacher, a lifelong political activist and an expert on First Nations culture and history. Her most recent book is My Conversations with Canadians.

Below, Maracle answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire. 

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction

"I can't forget Anna Karenina. She's a magnificent character in a horrific situation and I love characters that are magnificent and flawed at the same time, but make a Herculean effort to rise to their occasion. Even when they fail, it's ok with me because I'm not a stranger to failure. Most other characters come and go, but Anna sticks with you."

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

"I'm Indigenous, so for me and for my relatives, it's not being able to give, not having enough to give away, not having enough to potlatch, not having enough to share, not having enough to help somebody that needs it. All of those things are horrifying. If you are not here to share, then what are you doing on Earth? And I think sometimes the suicide in my community is linked to that — not being able to share."

Who are your favourite heroes in real life?

"Some 5,000 aboriginal women started all the modern art organizations we have today — over a 1,000 across the country — and they started with nothing. They built housing societies, Native child family services, education societies, elder societies and Native friendship centres in a matter of two decades with next to nothing but hope and a lot of elbow grease in every urban centre in the country.

"I imagine them as little girls living like I did with no running water and hauling water from a well or from a stream and cooking on an old wood stove, trying to keep warm when the winds were blowing through the crevices of the walls and trying to insulate the room they slept in, helping the old ladies make quilts because it wasn't warm enough. That was my first nine years and I imagine that these women had the same first nine years. They took all that energy, experience of stitching lives together and hauling water together and putting a lot of elbow grease and creativity into things to building a new world for us."

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

"Being dead and having an awesome story to tell my ancestors when I get there is perfect joy and happiness. If I could go and entertain my ancestors with the journey that I've had, that would make me totally happy. I think the worst thing in life is having no terrific story to tell."

Lee Maracle's comments have been edited and condensed.