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Joseph Boyden on a writer's voice and Alice Munro

Part two: the Canada Reads winner talks ahead of his Whistler Writers Festival reading



Award-winning author Joseph Boyden headlines this year's Whistler Writers Festival, which runs from Oct. 17 to 19. He will be in conversation with writer and broadcaster Bill Richardson and reading from his most recent novel The Orenda on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 (a previously printed amount of $30 was incorrect) and available at www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

Boyden's novels concentrate on First Nations heritage and culture; his own heritage is Irish, Scottish and Anishinaabe. His upcoming work includes a TV drama called Thunder House Falls, a TV 10-part adaptation of The Orenda and a new ballet for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Part one of the interview can be read online at www.piquenewsmagazine.com.

Pique: You were in your late 30s when Three Day Road (Boyden's first novel) was published. What was your journey getting to that point?

Joseph Boyden: Oh, it was tough! Writing is a game of patience, the longest apprenticeship with no promise of ever landing the job, you know? You have to be in it for the absolute obsession and love of what you're doing. I'm a patient person and I knew it was going to be a while, if ever, for my books to see the light of day. My day job was teaching... But, yeah, it was a long process with The Day Road, I wrote that over four-and-a-half years, getting up early every day to write. I was too exhausted when I came home at night to even think about writing. I was not a morning person, but I found (it) really made sense for me.

Pique: You seem to be a slow-burning worker. You're not quite at the Tolstoy level, writing a line a day.

JB: (Laughing) Mmm-hmm. I don't put out a novel a year. I sometimes wish I could.

Pique: In a Globe and Mail interview you were asked about the most dangerous influence on young writers and you said Alice Munro.

JB: She's an amazing woman. When you're learning to write as a student, it's all getting a foot up but you can forget your reader. I'm not saying that Alice Munro does that... she's a very special and singular talent.

Pique: You were talking about the voice of the writer.

JB: It's hugely important, but so is narrative. And you can't forget the readers don't just crave beautiful language, typically. They want a story that goes somewhere. I always tell my students not to forget that.

Pique: It's something we can fall into, a national style. Is it hard to try and break that, do you think?

JB: Not for me. I'm probably the example of the Canadian writer who did, but I write from my own voice. I come at it from an angle that I'm guessing you don't see too much in terms of first-person presence. Historical or otherwise, it's hard to pull off for short stories, never mind a 500-page book.

Pique: That can't be more different from Alice Munro.

JB: Yeah. I've always approached things in my own (way). I'm from a very large family but I'm very much strongly individual and I've always approached it from an individualistic way and kind of ignored the rules, in some ways. You've got to learn the rules first and then you can break them.

Pique: Are you still dividing your time between Canada and Louisiana?

JB: Louisiana is my homebase. My wife and I have lived there on and off for 20-plus years. My big, amazing family is in northern Ontario. I'm back and forth all the time.

Pique: Do you find that helpful?

JB: I do, yeah. I think that kind of psychic, geographic distance of living down here allows it. I'm not living in America so much as a banana republic, you know? But I love that kind of distance that I'm given to look back at my country and write about it. Because that's what I do, I'm not an expatriate writer; I'm a Canadian writer in New Orleans writing about my country.