Supporting Aboriginal writing

(Edmonton) Indigenous writers will at the University of Alberta this weekend to help promote Aboriginal literature, support emerging writers and connect writers who have common interests.

The event, Tâpwê, which means “it is true” or “it is so,” brings emerging and established Aboriginal authors to the Telus Centre on Friday and Saturday for a panel discussion and gala reading. U of A English and film studies researcher Christine Wiesenthal says the event will help open up the cannon on Aboriginal literature.

“There is a younger generation of emerging Aboriginal writers who’re moving into new genres and producing innovative works that are distinct from canonical Aboriginal writers. It’s an opportunity to showcase some of those newer voices,” she said.

Younger writers, including U of A students, will get feedback on some of their works from mentors at the event: Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, Duncan Mercredi, Taqralik Partridge, Sharron Proulx-Turner, Anna Marie Sewell and U of A writer-in-residence Richard Van Camp. More than 30 writers have registered to work with their more-established counterparts.

Van Camp says there’s a change now in Aboriginal literature, which events such as Tâpwê can help encourage. “When Aboriginal literature was starting a long time ago, a lot of people were going to non-Aboriginal people to read about the Aboriginal culture, and now it’s our time to tell our own stories,” Van Camp said. “The mentors that are coming for the celebrations are mid-career and established, respected Aboriginal voices. It’s a chance [for young writers] to be listened to, encouraged, mentored and believed in.”

Sewell, Edmonton’s poet laureate, will lead a panel discussion on Saturday called The Arc of Indigenous Literature. It will focus on recent developments in Aboriginal literature, including writers producing works outside of what is often considered Aboriginal literature.

Wiesenthal sees a need to showcase works by younger authors. “The diversity of voices is often overlooked. You get canonical writers who’re represented in anthologies that leave out all these exciting voices who’re working on genres such as science fiction, comedy, etcetera,” she said. “It’s part of combatting the stereotype and the sense of the native writer as a kind of homogenous category. These writers are coming from different places and they are all very different writers. That’s one thing that we want to promote an awareness of. This is a way to open up the cannon further.”

Keavy Martin, English and film studies researcher, says the U of A is responding to the growing number of Aboriginal residents living in Edmonton. “The university has a commitment to attracting and retaining Aboriginal students and creating spaces for them on campus,” she said. “These writers get the chance to share their truths.”

Tâpwê is one of several ways in which the university will be engaging with the growing community of Aboriginal people, says Wiesenthal. “In terms of the literary and artistic communities in Edmonton, I think that further connections with Aboriginal writers are going to be beneficial, to have a synthetic community of voices.

“This will affect pedagogy in ways that it will disseminate a kind of respectful appreciation for a history that is largely still uncovered or neglected.”