Racist experiences prompted Billy-Ray Belcourt to write poetry, then he won the Griffin Poetry Prize
Originally published Sept. 23, 2018.
When Billy-Ray Belcourt went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, he'd written a bit of poetry, but racist experiences and feeling "unbodied" while studying overseas inspired his Griffin Prize-winning book, This Wound Is a World.
Belcourt, from the Driftpile Cree Nation, was surprised by some of the racism he encountered while living in the U.K. He recalled how Indigenous peoples appeared in his course readings, how his peers conceptualized Native people, and one experience where someone walked up to him, touched his skin through his ripped jeans, and laughed.
"There was this sort of dissonance that I identified in the people there, where they constructed themselves as intelligent, worldly, cultured people," he said. "While on the other hand, they were actively perpetuating these quieter forms of racism, micro-aggressions ... that piled up and essentially forced me to have to write about them."
While at Oxford, far from his community in Alberta, Belcourt felt a sense of alienation and loneliness.
"Loneliness is also a, perhaps, sign," he said, "of a world to come."
"That our desire is for something that doesn't exist yet, and for me that is empowering."
Click the Listen button above to hear his full conversation with Rosanna Deerchild.