The Next Chapter

Tanya Tagaq melds memoir and fiction with emotional first book, Split Tooth

The musician talks to Shelagh Rogers about why she turned to fiction. Split Tooth was longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Split Tooth is Polaris Prize-winning artist Tanya Tagaq's first book. (Penguin Random House, Peter Power/Canadian Press)

This interview originally aired on Jan. 28, 2019.

Accolades seem to follow artist Tanya Tagaq where ever she goes. Not only is the Inuk throat singer and experimental musician from Nunavut a Polaris Prize and Juno-winning musician, her debut book, Split Tooth, a mix of memoir and fiction about a young girl growing up in the most northern territory of Canada, was on the longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

Split Tooth in 2019 also won the $2,000 Indigenous Voices Award for best published prose in English and is a finalist for the Sunburst Award for Canadian fantasy writing.

Tagaq tells The Next Chapter how Split Tooth came to be.

Putting it out there

"I didn't have an intention of ever putting this writing out. Most of it has been written over the last 20 years. It was just sitting around in logs, diaries and notes on my phone. It was unintentional, almost in the same way the first few performances I did with throat singing — I never ever thought that it was going to become a career.

"I'm thrilled that this book has become what it is and it has its own body. I am completely humbled that people are enjoying the words." 

Learning to fly

"It's an interesting dichotomy within the book because some of it is personal experience and some of it is a character I'm very far removed from. You know when you're in a dream and you realize you can fly, so you do it? This character is like all the insecurities or the experiences I had that made me feel small and embarrassed. I was able to fly and let the character do what I wish I did." 

Wish fulfillment

"Being able to make something up is very fun, because it's almost like it's happening the way you wished it happened. There were a few times in the book where I was surprised by the word's power to take me, instead of me taking it. That's how I feel when I'm playing a concert. The sound is carrying me; I'm not carrying the sound."

Tanya Tagaq's comments have been edited for length and clarity.