ANOTHER SUNDAY, another Flash! Future to celebrate! One of my personal commitments these past couple years has been to read more broadly, and perhaps the literary corner I’m most unfamiliar with (to my great impoverishment) are works by Indigenous and First Nations authors. I began my journey with the well-known and prolific Louise Erdrich (the prose in her latest novel “The Night Watchman” just slips into your bones and settles itself!), and from there wandered east into the realms of today’s featured author and empathy-cultivator Cherie Dimaline. Come with us at Fire&Ice as we get to know one of fiction’s newest writers in a rich and ever-deepening literary tradition.
Who is this empathy-cultivating Flash! Future figure?
Name: Cherie Dimaline
Nationality: Métis Nation, Georgian Bay, Canada
Best known for: The Marrow Thieves, Red Rooms, The Girl who Grew a Galaxy
- Indigo’s #1 Best Book of 2019, Empire of Wild (Canada, 2019)
- Sunburst Award, Young Adult Fiction: The Marrow Thieves (Canada, 2018)
- Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature: The Marrow Thieves (Canada, 2018)
- Kirkus Prize for Young Readers, The Marrow Thieves (USA, 2017)
- Premier’s Excellence in the Arts Award, Emerging Artists of the Year (Canada, 2014)
What she writes & why every reader of fiction should know her name.
Cherie Dimaline writes fiction but beneath the ribs of what’s imagined, beats the flesh and blood stories of her people. This thrum is especially strong in her YA dystopian novel, The Marrow Thieves, about a Métis boy surviving a future that echoes the community’s very real genocidal history. The novel won her multiple awards, including the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers (a first for any Indigenous Canadian author), and earned her a powerful audience with every day readers, academia, and publishers alike, netting her an offer for TV adaptation and an incredible four-book deal for her next novel Empire of the Wild. The online business magazine Publishing Perspectives calls her “one of the best known representatives of Indigenous voices in Canada’s book industry.”
The shimmering wall of praise!
On Cherie Dimaline herself: “I first came to know Cherie Dimaline’s writing last year, when I read “Legends are Made, Not Born” in Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An LGBT and Two-Spirit Sci Fi Anthology. The character she writes about in that story is named Auntie Dave. I wrote, then, that I had to “just be” with Auntie Dave and that story for awhile. There’s a quality in Dimaline’s writing that reached from the page, into my being.” — Debbie Reese, AICL
On The Marrow Thieves: “The book is, above all, a cautionary tale, revealing an exaggerated version of what could happen to Earth in the not-so-distant future. It is a timely and necessary read referencing pipelines, melting northern territories, rising water levels, and the consequences of government policies that don’t protect the environment. Powerful and endlessly smart, it’s a crucial work of fiction for people of all ages.” — Quill and Quire
On Empire of Wild: “Empire Of Wild is a small book. But it is not a slight book. It is tight, stark, visceral, beautiful—rich where richness is warranted, but spare where want and sorrow have sharpened every word.” — Jason Sheehan, NPR
On The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy: “Dimaline’s ability to make you feel what Ruby is going through is nothing short of amazing.” — Christine Smith, The Toronto Review of Books
Growing empathy through the ordinary
If Dimaline has a superpower as a writer, it’s her ability to cultivate empathy out of the ordinary. In her stories, she crafts family dinner scenes that will make you squirm even if you aren’t familiar with the Métis community’s generational clashes. She conjures the bone-deep ache of a missing loved one—that hungriness of the skin—even if you’ve never had the misfortune to lose someone. She shares the mythos of her people in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you’ve heard of the rogarou—on a midnight road, we all look over our shoulder expecting to see some brightly-fanged beast, right? It’s that fear-memory she taps into. What Dimaline wields so effectively, are the ticks and quirks, the carnality and the psyche of the human experience that reach beyond culture, even as it invites us to come and understand hers.
But enough! Her words speak for themselves.
“After ‘While” is the heart-shattering story of a daughter desperate for her mother’s love. It was originally published on CBC Books and “is part of Chaos & Control, a special series of new original writing by the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award winners.” Read the full piece here.
The first time Lucky lost a tooth, the tooth fairy left her a bowling trophy. It was confusing because when she asked Grandma Stella to read the little plaque to her it said “To Fred, Best Gutter Ball in the State.”
The second time she lost a tooth she got nothing at all. She thought maybe it was a one-shot deal and she was left with a mouth full of duds. But a week later a ziplock bag of pennies showed up lodged under her pillow with a handwritten note on the back of an Export label that said “Sorry, I’m shitty with deadlines.” She assumed it was from the delinquent fairy and quickly sent her a thank you prayer, since she wasn’t sure what the best way was to reach her.
“Screw ’em all and let Jesus sort it out,” her mother would say. So she got in the habit of deferring all her important messages to heaven since Jesus was such a good organizer.
Lucky’s mother Arnya was a magician. She could make groceries appear overnight even though the stores were closed. She found ways to evade the landlady where others would be stuck handing over cheques. She could make Lucky feel panic and relief in the same sentence.
Lucky collected magazines, which was easy to do since magazines were transient in nature, the hobos of the written word, hopping on trains, sleeping in alleyway piles, being left on chairs in offices where people came to wait. By the time she was eight she had a wall of sloping, slippery magazines like pulpy pillars stacked beneath her window in her attic room at Grandma’s.
“What do you need all these for?” Arnya was sitting on her mattress smoking a cigarette and painting the peeled heel of her black booties with a small bottle of black Halloween nail polish. “How much do you even read in Grade 1?”
Lucky was organizing the travel issues by continent. She coughed. “I’m in Grade 3, Arnya. And you shouldn’t smoke in here.” She pointed to the circular window over her shoulder with a thumb. “It doesn’t open.”
“Well, excuse me, brainiac.” Arnya ground out the cigarette in an empty plate on the nightstand, after taking one last haul that burned the paper down to the butt.
Lucky felt the silence as reprimand and hurried to fill the space.
“I like the pictures. And I collect the words.”
Her mother exhaled through her nostrils. She reminded Lucky of the dragons in Grandma Stella’s stories, if a dragon wore purple eyeshadow and swore a lot.
“Collect words? Why don’t you collect something normal, like dolls or some shit? Or cards. I used to have a collection of cards from casinos all over the midwest. Until I left Richard. They stayed behind.” She stabbed at the exposed white plastic with the nail polish brush until the fibers splayed and bent.
Lucky didn’t really remember Richard. He was one of the boyfriends that lived “somewhere else;” one of the ones her mother moved away for. He happened during the “Christmas years,” the only times she saw Arnya. His was one of the names scrawled directly on the wrapping paper of her wildly guessed gifts, as if her mother invoking him through the addition of a name made them somehow related, made her somehow relevant.
Where can the inquisitive go for more? To the hyperlinks!
You can find Cherie Dimaline on Twitter or follow her website to stay future-informed on all her past and present publications (including developments on the forthcoming small screen adaptation of her YA novel The Marrow Thieves). If you’ve already read her books, or if there are other First Nations or Indigenous authors you love that we should be reading, please share below!