Giller Prize Special: The Chat With Eden Robinson

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2017 Giller Prize finalist Eden Robinson is the author of the much-heralded new novel Son of a Trickster, the first in her Trickster trilogy.

Writing in The National Post, Robert Wiersema calls Son of a Trickster “a unique, genuinely surprising novel from one of Canada’s finest writers, a blend of hardscrabble coming-of-age story with mythic fiction at its most powerfully subversive.”
 
Eden Robinson is a novelist and short fiction writer from the Haisla First Nation. Her novel Monkey Beach, which combines contemporary realism with Haisla mysticism, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and a Governor General’s Literary Award, and received the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. She gave the 2010 Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture, which was published as the memoir The Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols & Modern Storytelling. She lives in Kitamaat, BC.

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THE CHAT WITH EDEN ROBINSON

Trevor Corkum: This is your first novel in a decade, since Blood Sports. How does it feel to have this one out into the world?

Eden Robinson: Nerve-wracking! I was so focused on writing the book, I forgot about the promotional part. It took about ten interviews and readings to get back in the swing of things. I’m happy I have a book running amok in the world though.

And I apologize to the people who sat through those early, awkward moments when I was finding my feet. Thank you. You were all very patient.  

TC: The novel focuses on Jared, a sixteen-year old Indigenous teen living in northern BC. Jared’s world is full of texting, hanging out with his buds, school life. Jared also has hidden gifts he’s only just beginning to understand. What challenges did you face writing Jared, and what research was involved?

ER: Monkey Beach is a part of the BC curriculum for First Nations English 10/11/12. When it was a FNESC pilot program, I toured in support of it and visited high schools across northern BC. I facilitated a lot of workshops with over 30 students. Since we only had an hour or two to work, I focused on group character creation and world-building. What struck me was that once the kids were on board, they sent their characters on such wild adventures. I really wanted to capture that energy in Son of a Trickster.  

My younger cousins and nieces and nephews have also tried to keep me up to speed on the ever-evolving social media platforms. I still don’t get Snapchat. The filters are fun, but the rest of it makes me feel like I’m trying to learn Russian or quantum physics.

I still don’t get Snapchat. The filters are fun, but the rest of it makes me feel like I’m trying to learn Russian or quantum physics.

TC: One of my favourite characters is Sarah, Jared’s Goth-y, politically active girlfriend. She gets some of the best lines in the book. How did Sarah come alive for you?

ER: Sarah arrived on the page and immediately started kicking ass and taking names. She was supposed to be a walk-on character, but I enjoyed the way her story reflected Jared’s and the things they brought to each other and the way they fought. They both use snark as a defense, but Jared is all about family and Sarah is all about saving the world. She roots for the underdog. She’s felt like an outsider all her life, and she’s only now discovering her voice and where she fits.  

Sarah arrived on the page and immediately started kicking ass and taking names. She was supposed to be a walk-on character, but I enjoyed the way her story reflected Jared’s and the things they brought to each other and the way they fought.

TC: You’re widely recognized as a master storyteller, and this latest novel is another example of how you weave thrilling plot with rich, relatable characters. Who are some of your own influences, mentors, and writing heroes? In what ways do you see yourself as a role model or mentor?

ER: Thank you. That’s lovely to hear. I’ve had many mentors in my career. At the moment, I’m trying to expand out of first person narration, so I’m reading a lot of novels narrated from multiple, third-person points of view. I want to start telling community stories after the Trickster series is done, and it’s difficult to do that if you’re limited to first-person narrators.  

I’m not really comfortable being labelled a role model. I appreciate the way people like Michael J. Fox handle their status as role models to raise awareness, but you can’t model someone’s creative path because it depends so much on your personality. What may be right for me may stifle your muse.

I’m not really comfortable being labelled a role model. I appreciate the way people like Michael J. Fox handle their status as role models to raise awareness, but you can’t model someone’s creative path because it depends so much on your personality. What may be right for me may stifle your muse.

Mentoring has been a gift. I was intimidated by it and wasn’t sure what I could teach anyone, but it’s taught me about my craft by making me articulate my process and thinking. It’s also fantastic to be a part of someone’s journey. I remember starting out and being so confused by the craft, the industry, the politics of being an artist in Canada. It’s a steep learning curve and I like helping people make sense of their process and where they fit in publishing. 

 
TC: Earlier this year you won the Writers' Trust of Canada Engel/Findley Award. What did it mean to you to receive this kind of recognition from your peers at this stage in your career?

ER: The Engel/Findley Award came at the perfect time. Being away from publishing for so long, I had a lot of doubts about my career, my writing, my next novel. To have my body of work held up at the time gave me a much needed boost of confidence. Knowing that my peers have faith in my work to come is so invigorating. Much love to the Writers' Trust and the jury.  

October 27, 2017
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