So, Kateri couldn’t make it to the reading…
Just kidding. (Almost had you there, didn’t I?)
Actually, Kateri almost had us there. Here, wait. Let me backtrack a little bit.
Okay, so the last time I talked to you guys, I’d been worried that Kateri might cancel on us; she told me she wasn’t feeling well and I told her not to worry about the second part of the interview. I figured her health mattered more. And I worried, because that’s what I do.
Then I got an email with part two of the interview. And nothing else. Just the answers to the questions, which I was super happy with.
I was so happy with the interview that, well, I was in my own little happy bubble. I didn’t realize that my supervising professor, Dr. Morra, had not heard back from Kateri at all. We didn’t hear anything from her for a few days. Not a word.
So the day of the reading rolls by and we have no idea what to expect. We figure we’ll probably hear from Kateri a few hours before the reading, and that everything should go smoothly enough. But then 3pm comes and goes and we still haven’t heard a word. 3:30 rolls by, then 4. I start to expect the worst. Is Kateri too sick to come? Did she forget the reading was today? Did her car crash? 4:15. Was she kidnapped? Abducted by aliens? Held at ransom by some deranged fan? Ten minutes before the reading, Morra and I give up all hope of ever seeing Kateri. Hopefully, she’s still alive and doing okay. We start calculating what expenses are refundable.
By the time it’s 4:30, I’m trying to figure out how to tell people that the reading is cancelled. Sorry folks, but we seem to have lost the author.
Then, Morra’s cell phone rings. It’s Kateri. She’s a bit lost in Sherbrooke, but she should be here soon. Alexis (our amazing SWEET intern), Morra and I have never been so relieved. Morra goes outside to wait for her in the cold (oh, the things we do for readings).
When Kateri strolled into the bookstore, it was like seeing a unicorn after your parents told you they were all dead. She just strolled in like a boss, took two seconds to collect her thoughts, and then went on to give one of the best readings this series has ever seen. It was amazing.
Kateri is the third Indigenous author the reading series has ever had (she was preceded by Richard Van Camp and Armand Ruffo). May she not be the last. Most of us know close to nothing about Indigenous issues. How many of us know about residential schools? The reserves? About Indigenous history, period. Bishop’s doesn’t even have a professor for Indigenous literature. If profs (like Dr. Morra) didn’t jump out of their field to try it, then we wouldn’t even have the little that we do.
I started wondering about my interview with Kateri. Why hadn’t I asked any questions about her heritage and culture? I felt comfortable enough asking her about editing erotica, but too nervous to ask about First Nations. What does that say?
Thursday was the kind of reading that really got me thinking, which is exactly what a reading should do.
It was also a lot of fun. Her reading was fantastic. I’m going to tinker around with the blog to try and get some pictures up for you guys. Aaaaaand, if you’re good, I might even give you some details about what the supper was like (9Gag was involved).
Also, I want to say a huge thank you to the Bishop’s Bookstore, ITS, Dr. Linda Morra and Alexis Chouan. And last, but certainly not least: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. Team awesome. Great reading guys!
Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm is amazing. Enough said. Enjoy the second part of the interview folks!
Can you tell us a bit about your publishing house, Kegedonce Press?
Kegedonce Press publishes the work of Indigenous writers. You can check the website for more info (www.kegedonce.com). What I do want to say is that Kegedonce Press survives because of the commitment of those involved. Without the dedication of Renee Abram, Kegedonce Press would not survive these difficult times in publishing and more importantly, as Indigenous publishing inCanada is developing.
I noticed that you are the editor of Without Reservation: Indigenous erotica. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Without Reservation came about partly in response to the testimonies of sexual abuse that started coming out when Residential School Survivors began to come forward with their stories about the reality of life in theIndianResidentialSchoolsystem. It was overwhelming to realize that so many of our children had suffered in that way. I needed, and I believed other Indigenous people needed, some positive stories and images to help us get through this and to overcome it. Initially, I was looking for stories about love and healthy relationships between Indigenous people and was shocked that I found very very little. Even when I looked internationally. So, I started talking to other Indigenous writers and artists about it and collecting work for what would eventually become Without Reservation. Today, I believe it is a very important anthology – perhaps the most important one in the past several decades – because it opened a dialogue. In a way, it gave us permission to once again express our sexuality in the way that we wanted and not simply in response to racist and colonial actions.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on (if you’re at liberty to say)?
I’m always working on a few different projects. I’m currently trying to find time to complete two collections of short stories. I also have been working, slowly, on a libretto for an opera – but that’s a longer term project.
And now for some lighter questions:
What is your favourite book?
One of my favourite books is Love Medicine and One Song by Gregory Scofield. Another is Potiki by Patricia Grace, a Maori writer.
That’s difficult, I’m not sure. I do like Marie Clements’ work.
One thing you would love to do in the next 5 years.
In the next five years I’d love to be able to spend a year devoted to writing.
One place you would love to visit.
For years I’ve been wanting to go to Iceland but haven’t made it yet.
If you were standing on a mountain and you had one thing to shout out to the world and they would all hear it, what would you yell?
I would yell: Love one another!
Okay, so the next reading is Thursday (4:30 pm at the Bishop’s University Bookstore. I got that baby memorized). Would it be ethically responsible for me to double check (yet again) that all the ITS equipment, all the catering, all the chairs and the podium are still booked (did I forget anything?!)? I’ve harassed about as many media sources as I could find (even my roommate in business got an email about the Morris House Reading Series)…
Okay. Okay. But here is what’s making me anxious right now:
I can’t send you guys a Part Two of the interview because Kateri is feeling sick. Let’s hope she’s feeling better for Thursday, so that I have not harassed half of Bishop’s for — well, no reading at all.
I’m not saying the reading is cancelled. It just means that I’m paranoid. And anyway, now you know exactly what goes on behind the scenes. We stress. And send each other emails. And then stress some more.
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.
Hey folks, and welcome to our brand new Morris House blog!
First entries are awkward so I’m going to keep this one short and sweet: thank you Julie Fradette for helping us get started up (for those of you who don’t know, Julie Fradette is our amazing webmaster).
I have an exclusive blogy surprise coming your way, so stay tuned.
(I know right, the suspense is killing me too)