Why Catherine Hernandez writes

In this special CBC Books series, the author discusses her creative mindset.
In this CBC Books video series, Catherine Hernandez explains why today’s Canadian writers need to be aware of anti-oppression and decolonization in order to be successful. 3:22
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(Arsenal Pulp Press)

Catherine Hernandez is a playwright author and performer. Her novel Scarborough follows the lives of three children over the course of a school year in the lower income neighborhood of Kingston-Galloway in the Scarborough area.

During the 2018 Canadian Writers' Summit at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, Hernandez discussed what she's thinking about when she writes. 

Art with a backbone

"The spine of my artistic practice is teaching anti-oppression. I believe that anti-oppression and decolonization has to actually be the beginning of learning in order to be an artist. Because of the structures that are given to us by white supremacy, it's really important for us to shake the yoke of that first in order for us to have our true selves come forward."

Honour the ancestors

"In racialized cultures we would say it's like our ancestors are speaking to us and telling us how to communicate to the people around us in this particular physical realm. If we were to adopt that sort of decolonized language it means that we're giving us all a chance to be able to really connect to what the universe has to tell us."

Measures of success

"How I define success as an artist is very particular. I need to centre story and truth. I shouldn't centre prize-winning. I always remember what metre stick I'm using. Am I using a colonized metre stick or am I using an ancestor's metre stick? And I have to keep on dedicating a lot of my sense of success to writing about people who have never felt seen before reading my books and feeling like they finally have a voice. That to me is a complete measure of success. And I feel that my ancestors sense that success in me as well." 

Catherine Hernandez's comments have been edited and condensed.