The youngest ever winner of the Griffin Prize mines his own personal history to reconcile the world he was born into with the world that could be.
Billy-Ray Belcourt's debut memoir opens with a tender letter to his kokum and memories of his early life in the hamlet of Joussard, Alberta, and on the Driftpile First Nation. From there, it expands to encompass the big and broken world around him, in all its complexity and contradictions: a legacy of colonial violence and the joy that flourishes in spite of it, first loves and first loves lost, sexual exploration and intimacy, and the act of writing as a survival instinct and a way to grieve. What emerges is not only a profound meditation on memory, gender, anger, shame, and ecstasy, but also the outline of a way forward. With startling honesty, and in a voice distinctly and assuredly his own, Belcourt situates his life experiences within a constellation of seminal queer texts, among which this book is sure to earn its place. Eye-opening, intensely emotional, and excessively quotable, A History of My Brief Body demonstrates over and over again the power of words to both devastate and console us.
BILLY-RAY BELCOURT (he/him) is a writer and scholar from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize for his debut collection, This Wound Is a World, which was also a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award. His second book of poetry, NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field, was longlisted for Canada Reads 2020. A recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and an Indspire Award, Belcourt is Assistant Professor of Indigenous Creative Writing at UBC.
“Elegantly crafted . . . an urgently needed, unyielding book of theoretical and intimate strength.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“In A History of My Brief Body, Billy-Ray breaks apart the reflection of a life into the specificity of moments?both his own and our collective experience?and beads them into his simultaneously sharp and lush writing. Bursting with all the movements of sex, riot, and repose, this book presents us with a shock of recognition and reclamation, and we are better for it?punch drunk and aching but, oh, so much better. I’m gutted by his brilliant mind.” ?Cherie Dimaline, author of Empire of Wild and The Marrow Thieves
“A History of My Brief Body puts the reader at the centre of a deeply serious struggle—with language, with sexuality, with race and colonial Canada, and with love and joy and a life in art. It’s about the attempt to stand in a centre one has created, all while feeling the impossibility of ever doing so, and also wondering if one maybe shouldn’t. This is a passionate and vital autobiography about the intellect, the culture, and the flesh, as it bears its assaults and preserves a true light.”
—Sheila Heti, author of Motherhood and How Should a Person Be?
“A History of My Brief Body is an NDN love story that will stop you in your tracks. I’m struck by the gentleness in Belcourt’s words, his ability to move across scales, and the complexity of his thought. He’s achieved something here that we’ve collectively been trying to achieve for a long time, and it makes me feel proud.”
—Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of This Accident of Being Lost
“I choose not to reduce A History of My Brief Body to simply a bending of genre. Well beyond that simple idea, Billy-Ray Belcourt uses a dexterity of language and form as a container for memory and nostalgia as vehicles for truth about a still-blooming present. I love a book where a writer treats themselves and their own histories with gentleness and care, and this book is a towering achievement on that front.”
?Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
“Settler colonialism demands we believe we’d be better off without our bodies?their needs, their feelings, their raucous disobedience and ungovernable change. I don’t always know how to talk back to the violent nonsense that says, Disappear. With precision and care, Billy-Ray Belcourt presses thought against feeling to make, in each essay, an unbounded space for knowing and for staying whole.”
?Elissa Washuta, author of My Body Is a Book of Rules
“Billy-Ray Belcourt is proving himself to be a literary genius. His poetry and prose are tender and brutal and brilliant. This memoir recounts the intimate and sexual history of a young Indigenous poet who studies the reserve and the city. As with the writing of Maggie Nelson, I was astounded at both Belcourt’s scholarship and his acute reflections on the human condition. The book also provides indispensable insight into the political consciousness of Indigenous peoples in Canada.”
—Heather O’Neill, author of The Lonely Hearts Hotel