This week, we chat with author Joseph Dandurand, who was a Griffin Poetry Prize finalist in 2021. Joseph's latest book is a children’s story, A Magical Sturgeon, (Nightwood Editions), illustrated by Elinor Atkins.
Joseph Dandurand is a member of the Kwantlen First Nation, located on the Fraser River about twenty minutes east of Vancouver, BC. He resides there with his three children. Dandurand is the director of the Kwantlen Cultural Centre and the author of several books of poetry including The East Side of It All (Nightwood Editions, which was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. In 2021, Dandurand received the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
A Magical Sturgeon tells the story of two young sisters and their encounter with the magical fish. It’s a follow-up to your earlier bestselling children’s books. Why did you want to tell this story?
I wrote this story 25 years ago. I was commissioned by the Fort Langley Historic Site to write a story. They did not care for the story because it had nothing to do with Fort Langley. I imagined the story took place in the waterway that separates our village from the fort. I am not sure where the story came from as all of the Kwantlen oral stories have been lost and there is nothing in a book for us to pull from. This story, as all my stories, are gifts. We are taught to share our gifts. This is why I wrote this story.
This story, as all my stories, are gifts. We are taught to share our gifts. This is why I wrote this story.
At the heart of the story is an important exploration of the importance of sharing. Can you talk about this idea a little more, and why it’s so vital?
We are taught to always give something back when we take from the earth. It is the same with fishing. We always give back the bones of the first fish that is caught. We have what is called A First Fish Ceremony every spring. We take the bones back to the river. We teach our children that you must take only what you need and that you are to always give something back. We also take care of our elders who no longer are able to fish. We put some aside for everyone in our village who needs fish but is unable to fish.
The tale does not shy away from consequence. In this way, it’s a great morality tale. In what ways do you think young people are more receptive to these kinds of tales?
When I read this story to kids of all ages, I am hopeful that they will hear the need to always give something back. I believe this simple story of how you must give back will allow children to understand that we do not own the earth and that we must protect her, and we must not destroy the food sources and the resources of the earth. I hope that children understand the consequence of listening and respecting our parents. They should understand that everything we do we must do with a good mind and a good heart.
The book features gorgeous illustrations by Elinor Atkins. How did you work together to produce the book?
Elinor and I have worked together before. She has provided paintings for a number of my books of poetry. I have also worked with both of her parents who are both wonderful artists. The work she has done for this book is amazing. I loved the watercolour paintings. She truly captured the emotions of this story. She will be providing the cover of my next book of poetry that is coming out in the fall.
What are you working on next, Joseph?
I have just completed a new manuscript of poetry. I will be working on a new play. I am in production for a new children’s radio play to be produced by Jewel Box Theater in Long Beach, California. It is a quitter time for me now as I am getting my boat and nets ready to fish the summer fish. I write every day. It is my gift. It is my glory. It is my passion.