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Biography & Autobiography Native Americans

Making Love with the Land

by (author) Joshua Whitehead

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2022
Native Americans, LGBT, Essays
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2022
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2024
    List Price

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Much-anticipated non-fiction from the author of the Giller-longlisted, GG-shortlisted and Canada Reads-winning novel Jonny Appleseed.
“Thrillingly cerebral. . . . Delivered with virtuoso aplomb.” —The New York Times

In the last few years, following the publication of his debut novel Jonny Appleseed, Joshua Whitehead has emerged as one of the most exciting and important new voices on Turtle Island. Now, in this first non-fiction work, Whitehead brilliantly explores Indigeneity, queerness, and the relationships between body, language and land through a variety of genres (essay, memoir, notes, confession). Making Love with the Land is a startling, heartwrenching look at what it means to live as a queer Indigenous person "in the rupture" between identities. In sharp, surprising, unique pieces—a number of which have already won awards—Whitehead illuminates this particular moment, in which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are navigating new (and old) ideas about "the land." He asks: What is our relationship and responsibility towards it? And how has the land shaped our ideas, our histories, our very bodies?

Here is an intellectually thrilling, emotionally captivating love song—a powerful revelation about the library of stories land and body hold together, waiting to be unearthed and summoned into word.

About the author

Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1). He is the author of the bestselling novel Jonny Appleseed (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018), longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award, and winner of Canada Reads; and the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer (Talonbooks, 2017), which was the winner of the Governor General's History Award for the Indigenous Arts and Stories Challenge in 2016. He is also the editor of Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020). His next book is a work of creative non-fiction entitled Making Love with the Land that details mental health, queerness, and Indigeneity and is forthcoming with Knopf Canada.

Joshua Whitehead's profile page


  • Long-listed, PEN Open Book Award
  • Short-listed, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize

Excerpt: Making Love with the Land (by (author) Joshua Whitehead)

I am reading Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and I let the words find me because the body always knows better than the mind does; muscles remember, they witness, like trees, riddles etch disease, and I am weeping willow, crying seeds and dripping saline from my hair (this is how I got my name, y’know?). Or consider how the cambiums of trees will warp a bullet civilly, make room for the wound in the structure of their being, crown themselves with flora—and I am singing starling. Ocean asks me, “Who will be lost in the story we tell ourselves? Who will be lost in ourselves? A story, after all, is a kind of swallowing.” Feel the roots of me, an ecosystem of pain—I am anthropic in the desert of my being. Do you feel how much the winds have dried my tendrils? Feed me, water me, nurture me. I would be lying if I didn’t say I too want to swallow you in this story I call essay, essay I call livelihood, life I pretend to call my own. I dog-ear Ocean’s page and make an animal of story, I am looking for a wilderness in the act of being wild; I, here, a rez dog. I haven’t seen you in a dog’s age, by which I mean I haven’t seen myself in years.

I am sitting on the hills of Dover, a space I rely on too heavily these days; the afternoon sun licking my shoulders, masseuse to the marks that stretch from the child-me who still fits inside me, and I have only just begun to find him again—that wild ancestral dream. People walk past me, staring: there I sit alone, barefoot, feet stroking the prairie grass and thistles, pricks not knowing the width of my soles. I cannot be harmed in this moment, by which I mean, I cannot afford to be. I puff a cigarette, curtail the smoke around the width of my neck, which remembers the lace of fingers around it—a finger trap, a gag toy. I let the smoke burn away the oils of your pads, which seed deep into me. I listen to Maggie Rogers’s “Back in My Body” on repeat, tilting my cheeks to the sun, let pîsim kiss them into roses and I am blooming flower; you, a shrike to my stamens. I hold myself as if I were a babe, bare legs with thin hairs wrapped up into my chest: I, a papoose. As for those who stop and gawk at a lone NDN sitting in the long grass, the other “you” of this story texts me: “They’re just stunned by your beauty in the sun.” I tell you that if they are, it’s entirely for me today—I am majesty and my body is a living cornucopia. I eat my own seeds—which isn’t to say I consume myself, for once, but rather that I wilt my pain into nutrient, and I am ouroboric. My hair, which I model on Steve Harrington, flails in the wind, to the point where I look Medusan in this Mohkinstsis light. I look at the “you’s” who have harmed me in ways big or small, and I will you all to stone, carry you like gall in the bladder of my being and expunge you in the beautiful delight of a well-deserved urination. I am a body not needing to be owned. Instead, I am owed, and no man can consume, let alone hold, my plurality in this zipper I call a body. Or maybe I mean to say that here, in this field, hair a zephyr of raze, I become âtim, dog, relinquished from the prison-house of the now, and I bark horror back into that doghouse while I rest among the multitudes.

I am a rez dog in this moment, a vicious sight.

I read reports of rez dogs, of how moniyâw come to steal them, beef jerky in hand, lure them into a car and drive off to transplant them into suburbia. I think of my three sisters, who have been thrown into a pot of soup. I am looking for them; have you eaten? I imagine those rez dogs strapped in the back seat of a Volvo watching the horizon recede, and their found family howling into the night, “Heck, where are you?” In this vignette, I am the rez dog and you are the driver, and it’s a hot July evening during the Calgary Stampede. The window-panes sweat, and my tongue is panting for moisture. My skin aches to be touched, but, like a frog’s, it weeps when you lay a hand upon my back. You grab me by the leash you have locked around my neck, force me close, my whiskers receding from your rank breath, your tongue the scent of fermentation, and I, my own muzzle. You promise me companionship and I bow to your feigned generosity, if only because the skyline is a dark ring and tipîskâw pîsim cannot see me here. Already, I am strategizing survivability amongst the abandoned build-ings, looming like spectres in the peripheries of my vision because I am trained to stare at you. Hand tightened around my collar, you bring yourself into me with the force of a bookbinder—even this assemblage of sound drips with violence and I am wet with ink. When you are done, you promise me a home, in its largest connotations, and I reassemble done as doom, home being a torture chamber, a cage, kennel, the terrible weight of pounds. Your body expunged, you smile a gluttonous grin, and I paw the door of your vehicle, escape into the night. I am feral in this delight, having returned from the throes of entrapment and survived, fleeing into the safety of a transformed me. I enter the vomitorium of who I am and hack up severance, lick the salty rue clean to chew the bone of you. I howl for my kin, who rush to my side. Don’t underestimate me, wendigo, I have chewed larger men than you into dust, blown through monuments, pissed on flagships, and you are only six inches of a man pretending he is ten. Together, a pack, we crush bone into fracture, crunch calcium into slop, will you the smiling death, a sudden syndrome, that slow necrosis.

“Just deadly,” we will say. And I will stop in my routine, sit, and ask: Why do we use “deadly” to describe achievement or self-esteem, why must we entomb NDN success through the verbosity of death? I don’t say that to my pack, though, because I don’t want to question those who continually save me, even if they can sometimes damn me. My kin bring me back to the rez, and we settle into the long prairie grass, cuddle in a ball of fur and dust, mouths salivating a river of froth. They lick my ducts with tongues sanded into soft leather, nuzzle noses into one another, sleep side by side: this is how a rez dog survives.

The circularity of the second person chokes me: Who is the you I am addressing? And I would be lying if I didn’t say: I have missed you forever. My, you’re a shapeshifter, m’boy—or am I the one who shifts? Here, in my bed, beneath fairy lights and vinework, I am beside a you whose chest blazes with similar glory, patch of spirit, bed of dandelion, and I am grazing softly, regurgitant—is this you “you” in my bedsheets when I pool between his thighs?

I am only making love to myself, aren’t I?

What does loneliness mean to a rez dog whose foot is wounded from a trapper’s coils? Look around you, my ancestors will say, at the vastness of what you call living, watch where your skin flakes off in the wind and thins into a feeding, where a hair follicle stems into a dandelion, sweat a sweet drink. Loneliness, they’ll say, is a mode of being dejected, not from relations, for those are plentiful and you are hungry, but from the act of rejecting that which is honest. Honesty, they’ll say, is all around you, and these are the relations that detect rejection. Look to the purple heads, honesty, Lunaria annua, those silver coins that rattle in the wind—ecology is its own economic. Honesty, that beautiful flower, whose roots look like fingers in the soil—coil yourself into it, stem into cell, finger the wet mud, and reach down into the earth of me. Do you see “you” there? Storage roots are a network of hyperlinks, and I am out of time: you are perennial, and this concept you call temporality is an orality. I tell you, I am looking for the pup in me, the one that knew no shame. And I look at my stomach, my arms, my shoulders, see the clawings of a pup too rough with its mother. I am valiant in my ferality, by which I mean I am no longer that rez dog. Rather, I am the one removed from the servitude of civility and I return to the hinterland of who I am: child-me, elder-me, present-me all dancing vigorous round steps in this pit I call pimatisowin, the act of living. I love the me I become in orality. It’s just—why can’t I bring that into being beyond this page? I am in retrograde, and this essay is an act of all the things I’ve been mourning to tell you.

Don’t expect too much from me, for I am slowly dying, and you have paid to witness this.

In this escape act of an essay, I have enacted and endured. I hear “everyone around me [is] saying you should be so happy now” in my AirPods, as Maggie Rogers wails in “Light On,” and yet I, a daisy of a man, am continually attracted to the light of you, that second-person address. The other “you’s” of this story eat from the palm of me, like a canker, worm, maple, the hardwood of my structuring. I am blown righteous with holes, here, in this moment: See the indents stitching together the orality of my temporariness? I think about how much I have given in this history: I see how much I have soaked into your floorboards and the zigzag stitches of your clothes that present your chest hair like a bouquet. But when I go into the tomb of the history that is mine, I see nothing of you save for a gallery of nail holes all screaming “fill me, filmme, filiusme.”

I pace my home for hours on end, alone, listening to Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight,” waiting to hear the wail of you from across the lot so I can know that I too held some type of significance in the life you are now living. I find a stone I saved from a tender moment we once shared, a memento, one I plucked from Bow sîpîy, all ruddy and smoothed from the rocking soliloquy of its mother and all her aunties. And in my maddened haze, I strike it against my abalone, casket of medicine, hearse of mindfulness, I am trying to spark a fire and become holy in the smoke—I am begging Creator to make me well again because I am weakened in this state and the root of me, the only face that smiles these days, aches to be dead-eyed into a shroud that will rig me into rigour, make me red sky. And yet, I am also striking this flint with instruction from Rufus, to break this pronominal form, this “you,” down into its roots too, inspect “you” elementally, granite of loss, determine not its ecological but its emotional value to me. Instead, I break me, because this “you” is a simulation, and I am faced with truth.

And ain’t that the funniest thing about writing? The “you” I keep invoking is multifarious, shattered glass, and I have only ever been talking to myself. Instead, when I go to the old home, I sit amongst the rez dogs, all kibble breath and piss dribble, ask them for companionship, conceptualize rez dogs as teacher, rez dogs as sacred, rez dogs as the greatest promise of the future through the metaphor of their bodies, their stories, their tattered pelts and crooked teeth in the apocalyptic followings that we are stalking. And I am here, looking for the good home, both in their skins and in my own—and I echo starling about it now.

Editorial Reviews

"[Making Love With the Land] defies categorization . . . mov[ing] between genres and languages in a series of essays that open up a whole new window on the meaning of Canadian literature.” —Maclean’s
“Astonishing. . . . [Whitehead] defies every genre. His thrillingly cerebral passages delve as deeply into academic theory as they do into ancestral visions, legends and dreams. . . . [All] delivered with virtuoso aplomb.” The New York Times

“Joshua Whitehead is one of those rare writers: he can turn his hand to any form and make it his own. . . . Making Love with the Land is a series of essays with a fluidity, as you might expect from Whitehead, between form and subject.” —Toronto Star
“Daringly experimental in form and refreshingly radical in message. . . . [Making Love with the Land] is a groundbreaking exploration . . . and a testament to the idea that our stories are so much more than our traumas.” Xtra
“While some of the pieces [in Making Love with the Land] are celebratory, honoring the homeland implied in his title, others are mournful. . . . Throughout, Whitehead is a lyric poet writing in prose, proudly declaring himself to be “transgressive [and] punk”—and, very clearly, a survivor. An elegiac and elegant book of revelations, confessions, and reverberations.” Kirkus Reviews
“Throughout Making Love with the Land, Whitehead traverses vulnerable and diverse subject matter, brilliantly uprooting explicit and implicit violences and personal and collective struggles, carving out a space for seeds of futurity to form. . . . The essays, collectively, are a lesson in how to love what is bad and what is hard, again and again, and a testament to the essential art of care.” Hazlitt

“Defiantly artful . . . alert to so much of the beauty and theterror of the world . . . While reading, I was entirely overcomewith gratitude . . . A truly dazzling feat of heart, analysis,and sentence-making.” —Billy-Ray Belcourt, author of A History of My Brief Body

“In this essay collection, Joshua Whitehead pushes at the possibilities of form, and the results are consistently a mix of the revelatory and the sublime. A chiaroscuro of self-questioning directed inward as a way to go outward—affectionate, resolute, playful, and wise. Brilliant lessons learned are on offer here, but more as an invitation to re-experience what you might not know you know.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

“In his latest “wonderwork,” Whitehead continues his signature and significant mission to undo colonial notions of genre, pushing the boundaries of memoir and cultural commentary into a wholly new, otherworldly terrain. Here, he makes love with body, kin, queerness, and music, demonstrating how making love isn’t just an act of pleasure, but also one of grief, pain and sometimes even solitude. A voice to listen to, learn from, cherish.” —Vivek Shraya, Author of People Change and I’m Afraid of Men

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