The Next Chapter

Why Karen McBride's debut novel Crow Winter is rooted in the real and the magical worlds

The Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation spoke with Shelagh Rogers about how her grief shaped her Crow Winter.
Karen McBride is the author of Crow Winter. (Justina Phippen, HarperAvenue)
Listen9:53

Karen McBride is an Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation in the territory that is now Quebec. Crow Winter is her first novel. 

It's a story of a young Indigenous woman named Hazel Ellis, who has the magical power to cross between the spiritual and material worlds. Following the loss of her father, Hazel returns to Spirit Bear Point First Nation reserve to be with her mother and to reconcile her grief.

An encounter with a pesky old crow — who might be the Algonquin demigod Nanabush — leads her to discover an old magic awakening in the quarry on her late father's land.

McBride spoke with Shelagh Rogers about Crow Winter.

On writing about home

"Crow Winter is set on a reservation. I wanted to show the reserve as a real place, not just some fictional scary land. It's a real place with living and breathing people that aren't different than any other sort of small town you could come across.

We as Indigenous people have all kinds of stories that are not just centred around specific kind of traumas due to colonialism.- Karen McBride

"We as Indigenous people have all kinds of stories that are not just centred around specific kind of traumas due to colonialism. It was important to me to bring people there to show them that we experience all kinds of trauma and grief, but also uplifting things as well."

Superpowered

"Hazel is someone who can check in and out of the boundaries between this world and the next world. I connect her to spirits and ancestors in ways that she can't begin to comprehend. It takes a pesky little crow to help her figure out exactly what that means and how to tap into it.

Crow Winter was my outlet to put my grief down on the page.- Karen McBride

"She is someone who is in search of some answers. She needs answers for her grief, she has questions about her father and if coming home was the right decision. She's someone who's so curious to find out how she can find a place for herself — whether that's on the reserve or out in the wider world."

Reality roots

"I wanted Hazel to come across the experience of questioning reality and dreaming in order to confront her own reality that she's going through at that time. I lost my own father in 2013. Hazel loses her dad to lung disease and the same thing happened to me and all my sisters. So we went through a lot.

"Crow Winter was my outlet to put my grief down on the page. I wanted to really explore it and bring it to some sort of resolution."

Karen McBride's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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