The Next Chapter

Ivan Coyote's book Care Of is a thoughtful collection of pandemic correspondence

The storyteller and author spoke with Shelagh Rogers about their collection of correspondences.
Care of is a collection of letters by Ivan Coyote. (Penguin Random House, Emily Cooper)

Ivan Coyote has written more than a dozen books, created four short films and released three albums combining storytelling with music, and is known for exploring gender identity and queer liberation in their writing.

Coyote has spent decades on the road performing, connecting with audiences around the world. But during lockdown, they began to connect with their audience in a different way. They pulled out the letters, emails, Facebook messages and handwritten notes that they'd received throughout their career and decided to write the responses they'd always meant to if and when they had the time.

Some of those messages and Ivan's replies are published in Coyote's latest book Care Of.

Coyote spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Care Of.

A lost art

"I learned a reverence and a respect for a handwritten letter from my grandmother, Patricia. I learned the value of what American gender theorist Judith Butler writes about — the merit of having long, measured, careful and thoughtful conversations. Judith speaks about it as an antidote to the lack of nuance, the lack of context and lack of lots of things in social media conversations.

I learned a reverence and a respect for a handwritten letter from my grandmother, Patricia.

"My grandmother and I exchanged letters all of my life. We probably started when I first left the Yukon in Grade 11. This book is in so many ways — as are many of my books — inspired by both of my grandmothers."

Magic and coincidence

"I wasn't envisioning it as a manuscript when I first started writing it. I was literally just answering letters. I would just go to the next letter that called to me. Eventually I was working on a book, officially. It shifted then.

"But I kept that random selection, letting my intuition tell me one was the next part of the conversation. If you sit down to read it from back to back, you notice how much magic and coincidence is in there. 

If you sit down to read it from back to back, you notice how much magic and coincidence is in there.

"Both the live school shows and publishing books are an act of healing my own self, to some degree. I do what I can do to make sure that everybody gets to be a hero of a story at some point. What a fundamentally beautiful gift that is to be able to give to someone else."

The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers and Ivan Coyote at Ivan's last performance before the pandemic in Nanaimo, B.C. (Submitted by Ivan Coyote)

Thoughtful responses

"It's absolutely about listening. I didn't respond to any of those letters without reading it over and over again — probably 10, 15 times, at least before I started to respond. 

It's about how stories and those experiences as we live them in our lives, connect us to other people.

"It's about how stories and those experiences as we live them in our lives, connect us to other people. Especially when someone reaches out to me with their grief. How is that not going to resonate and rattle my own similar loss in my chest? I liken it to a bell being rung, combined with a skeleton being rattled, combined with a nerve being touched."

Ivan Coyote's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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