'I'd never written about my abuse as truth, I'd always fictionalized it': Terese Marie Mailhot on her memoir
Originally published Sept. 23, 2018.
When Terese Marie Mailhot published her debut, Heart Berries: A Memoir, she couldn't have predicted the response. It was met with rave reviews, and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.
The memoir reflects the long lasting impact of intergenerational trauma and genocide on Indigenous people, and in it, Mailhot gets personal about the abuse she experienced and her struggles with mental health.
I had always fictionalized it [my abuse] … and I think I was really forced to deal with myself.- Terese Marie Mailhot
Mailhot, who is from the Seabird Island band in British Columbia, said it was terrifying releasing such a personal book out into the world.
"I think it felt combative at first, which is why the beginning passages are a bit aggressive, because I was taking on stereotypes and stigmas that I lived through," said Mailhot.
"The rest of it was trying to actualize the truth of that experience, you know, within all those stereotypes is a real story.
Committing herself to an institution
Mailhot started writing the book after she checked herself into a psychiatric institution, and said that environment was a perfect setting to write about her life.
"There I experienced the most conflict concerning my culture … [since] I have no access to my culture and my community," said Mailhot.
"In those spaces of mental health, there weren't any First Nations counsellors and there weren't any people who understand genocide and what it looks like to come from a culture that has thrived in spite of so much."
And at the centre of Mailhot's recovery was writing.
"[Writing] for me was a way to avoid my workbook and group therapy … but ultimately writing the truth of what I experienced was something kind of shocking [to me]," said Mailhot.
"I had never written about my abuse as truth, I had always fictionalized it … and I think I was really forced to deal with myself."
Since its release in 2017, the book has received a lot of positive attention. Mailhot has appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, feminist writer Roxane Gay gave her book a five star review on GoodReads, and actress Emma Watson picked her book for her book club.
Mailhot said she's still trying to process it all, but attributes her success to her ambition, and the support she received at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
"Tommy [Orange] and I came out, we hit the ground running, and nobody was going to try to stop us from trying, and we tried for big things," said Mailhot.
"There's something about the momentum that you can carry with a community … we really are benefiting from all the people who wrote before us and paved the way, and I think we're smart enough to know that what we contribute is worthwhile too."