'I have so much to say': Cree author David A. Robertson on writing everything from graphic novels to a memoir

This week on Unreserved, an extended conversation with Cree author David A. Robertson. To say he’s prolific is a bit of an understatement. He started his writing career in 2009, and has already published more than 20 titles.
David A. Robertson has three books out this fall, from his memoir Black Water: Family, Legacy and Blood Memory, to his middle grade novel, The Barren Grounds. (Harper Collins/Penguin Random House)

This episode originally aired September 27, 2020.

To say Cree author David A. Robertson is prolific is a bit of an understatement. He started his writing career in 2009, and has already published more than 20 titles. 

This fall he has three books hitting shelves. 

This week on Unreserved, an extended conversation with the author. 

Black Water: Family, Legacy and Blood Memory is Robertson's new memoir, which chronicles a trip he made to his father's trap line outside of Norway House Cree Nation, Man. 

David A. Robertson embraces his father, Don Robertson. (Submitted by David A. Robertson)

With his father's health declining, Robertson felt a sense of urgency to write about his relationship with his father. 

"I really wanted to start working on [the book] because … I wanted to document his life and our relationship, the teachings he gave me for myself and my family," said Robertson. 

"When we went to the trap line together two years ago, it felt like the framing for this story had to happen, because I think it was where we were journeying to all these years together … it felt like the right time to document everything that had happened between us and in our own lives." 

Robertson also turned hours of tape he recorded for the book into a five-part podcast for CBC, called Kiwew.

The Barren Grounds is his new middle grade book, for readers 8 to 12 years old. It's been described as The Chronicles of Narnia meets Cree stories about the stars and constellations. 

"I drew a lot of inspiration from C.S. Lewis … as I was writing this series from a kind of Indigenous perspective," said Robertson. 

The story follows Eli and Morgan, two Indigenous children in the foster care system, who are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg. They have a hard time in the city, and find solace in a secret portal they discover, which opens to another reality, Askí. 

"I wanted to write about the foster care system for quite a long time, and I was waiting for the rights story to be able to do it, and this story was my opportunity," said Robertson. 

"It's this journey story that you can be entertained by, but you can also learn a lot from." 

The Reckoner Rises: Breakdown is out Oct. 22, 2020. (Portage & Main Press)

The final book being released this fall is The Reckoner Rises: Breakdown, which will be released in October. It is a graphic novel, and a sequel to the series Reckoner Trilogy, and follows Cole Harper's journey to become a superhero. 

"It reflects a lot of the stuff that I loved as a kid in the superhero stories that I was reading," said Robertson. 

"But it also is a way for me to continue my work in representing indigenous people and in a more positive and truthful light in the many different forms of literature that I've tackled in my career."

Over the course of his career, Robertson has made a point to write Indigenous characters. 

"Any book that I've written has had an Indigenous character as the hero, as a central figure … it does a few things," said Robertson. 

"It helps Indigenous kids or Indigenous adults … see themselves reflected in mainstream literature. And that's a really empowering thing in particular for youth." 

"I also think it's important for non-Indigenous readers to read Indigenous characters that have real backgrounds, that have agency over their lives … it helps to educate non-Indigenous kids, non-Indigenous readers, about our culture, community, our families, our languages." 

This week's playlist:

Bon Iver

Bon Iver - Holocene 

Iskwe featuring Tanya Tagaq - The Unforgotten