Faculty of Arts
Writer-in-Residence Joseph Boyden: Giving Voice to a People
Dr. Tanis MacDonald, Department of English and Film Studies (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After months of planning and hard work by a committee headed by VP: Academic Deborah McClatchy, Giller Award-winning novelist Joseph Boyden visited Laurier from March 6-8 in a whirlwind week as our Writer-in-Residence. While at Laurier, Boyden was kept hopping as he met with several student groups, engaged in a spirited discussion with members of the university-wide “Laurier Reads Boyden” reading group, and gave a moving public talk to an audience of two hundred in the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall on March 8. Boyden also attended a fundraising dinner in order to help establish an ongoing Laurier scholarship for Aboriginal students, and when last seem on the morning of Friday, March 9, he was heading out to Waterloo Collegiate to speak to high school students.
One of the benefits of hosting a Writer-in-Residence at Laurier is the opportunity to presents to re-introduce to readers literature’s active role in culture and community, and to emphasize that our responsibility to an active culture is predicated on an ongoing dialogue about its history and its future. Boyden’s visit was much-anticipated, and the week was filled with humour and with serious discussion about building relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, reclaiming the importance of history and story, and writing as the art of memory and commemoration.
As a concrete way to welcome Boyden to Laurier, Dr. Ute Lischke and I, advised by Jean Becker from the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, led a diverse group of readers in discussions of Boyden’s Through Black Spruce. Titled “Laurier Reads Boyden,” this group was extremely popular, drawing its sixty regular members from all sectors of Laurier life: first-year students to retired professors, English students to Business students, people with strong Aboriginal traditions to people who knew little about such traditions. The group met three times during January and February to discuss the novel, listen to guest speakers, and form questions for Boyden’s WIR visit. Since Through Black Spruce is a book about two storytellers and two ways of listening, the practice of being a good audience for a story became doubly important as a way to honour Boyden’s book and his visit to Laurier. The group’s dedication and excitement about the novel was evident at the special event with Joseph Boyden, so much so that he revealed details about his next novel – the final in the trilogy – and then swore us all to secrecy.
Boyden’s public talk, “Write from Wrong: Giving Voice to a People,” attracted a large audience and was preceded by a moving performance of a welcome song by the Good-Hearted Women’s traditional drum group. The talk addressed the necessary trouble of being connected to community and to family in a sometimes violent and history-haunted world. The questions following the talk itself ranged from the broadly political to the intensely personal, giving Boyden the chance to discuss relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, the value of the Aboriginal Students’ Centre on campus, Canada’s chequered history of treatment of Aboriginal peoples and what reparation and community mean in that context, and of course, what he would do if he were prime Minister. The evening ended with a successful book signing.
Thanks are due to everyone whose commitment to bring Joseph Boyden to Laurier proved so successful: Jean Becker, Senior Advisor for the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives; Melissa Ireland, who worked so tirelessly to organize all the details; Ute Lischke for her work on Laurier Reads Boyden; David McNab for getting Joseph here on time; Deborah McClatchy for the idea; Helen Exley at C-PAM for her beautiful poster design; Dorinda Kruger Allen for training and new drummers for Joseph’s visit; and everyone in Laurier Reads Boyden and the audience for Joseph’s talk for creating such a welcome for him.