I have a confession to make: I didn’t know who Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm was until I started working for the Morris House Reading Series. No idea. Not one. As I was doing my research though, I started getting pretty damm (haha, bad pun!) excited. I just get the feeling that Kateri is one of those really cool funky writers. You know, the kind of woman that’ll write indigenous erotica and spoken word poetry, then start up her own publishing house and write a couple of books somewhere along the line (True story. Kateri’s resume does look something like that list, only with way more stuff on it). Honestly, this interview just confirmed it for me: I can’t wait to meet this woman. And so here is my interview with Kateri. Part 2 to come soon!
I was wondering if we could start with your story and how you got to where you are today. Can you tell us a little bit about your education and career?
Education and career: I have an M.A. in English Literature from theUniversityofOttawa. I have a few careers that run simultaneously. In terms of my writing career, it started when I was in university and first submitted work to be published. I had been writing my whole life but had never thought of myself as a ‘writer.’ One day I was at university (York U) and saw a posting in the English Department that was a call for submissions from Native writers. I sent some of my poetry in and all of my poems were selected. At that point, I began to think I could be a writer.
What is the one piece of advice you wish you’d had when you were starting off your career as a writer?
I wish I’d been told to work on having a writing CAREER, rather than to be a writer. There is a difference and it’s one I didn’t recognize for a long time. For example, one piece of advice I’ve heard given to emerging writers is to always start a new manuscript as soon as one is finished. Have an idea in mind and keep writing once one manuscript is completed.
I remember when I first started doing research for the series. I kept thinking to myself “how does Kateri do it?” You’re a poet, writer, publisher, librettist, activist, and Indigenous arts advocate… You’ve founded your own performing arts production company and publishing house. A) How do you do it? And B) I always thought of poetry and prose and the skills involved in starting up companies were so completely different. Is it hard balancing it all? Is it difficult switching from one style of writing to the next?
That’s a question no one has ever asked me! Yes, it is difficult! I believe I became a workaholic for a while. I love what I do and for many years I worked constantly because I enjoyed it. I personally try to eliminate the phrase “someone should do something…” from my vocabulary and my thinking. If I believe that then I believe that I should be that someone. That if I feel strongly about something then I should take action, even if it’s a small act. I still believe it’s a great philosophy but I’m more balanced now. I realized at one point that I needed to have more balance. I found myself thinking about work and rushing home when I was at family dinners. It was because I knew that if I didn’t maintain a certain pace, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everything. But I finally recognized that I needed to feel just as happy about being with my family and friends. I love my family and friends and even then I was devoting a lot of time to my nieces and nephews. But I was letting my own needs go unaddressed at times. However, I have no regrets. I did some amazing work that I am very proud of and that made me the person I am today.
Today I’m able to do it because when I work, I try to be very focused and efficient. I still love what I do so I’m sure that makes a huge difference in terms of my productivity. I rarely do anything i really don’t want to do. I focus on what I’m good at doing and what i want to do for whatever reason. If my heart is in it, it is empowering and engaging and gives back to me rather than draining me.
Come check out Part 2 of the interview later this week.