Sunday, May 15, 2011

Out-of-Town-Authors: Tomson Highway

The true NORTH
Most haven't seen this side of Manitoba

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon

Tomson Highway, a member of Barren Lands First Nation in northern Manitoba, is the beloved author of plays, novels and children's books.

In recent years he's also started writing and performing music, what he dubs "Cree cabaret."

The University of Manitoba's Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture is sponsoring a performance by Tomson at Aqua Books on Thursday.

Emma LaRoque, Neal McLeod and Duncan Mercredi will also appear as part of a bill called Cree Stories.

* * *

1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

A writer's life is so solitary - and I love it, the solitude - that he has to break away from that solitude every once in a while and surround himself with people or he'd go crazy. So performing my cabarets does that perfectly.

I generally do a series in October, just before my partner and I leave for our winter home in France - and then in May, just before we come back to our summer home in Canada. It's the perfect balance, i.e. between the solitude that I love (in beautiful surroundings, in both countries) and the people whom I love just as much, i.e. my friends who, in essence, are the people who read my books, and love them.

2) What do you want people to know about your writing?

I want people to know that I write well and that that writing comes from northern Manitoba, and I mean the real north, where I was born and grew up, i.e. the Manitoba-Nunavut border area (near Saskatchewan), a part of the world that nobody - and I mean NOBODY, except for those of us who come from there - has ever seen, a part of the world that is so beautiful and so untouched you would cry if you were ever to see it.

Thousands of lakes, for one thing, lakes from which one can still drink the water. By comparison, Winnipeg, to us, might as well have been Rio de Janeiro or Antarctica, it was that far south of us.

3) Will this your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

Will this be my first time in Winnipeg? Good grief, woman, I went to high school there, as well as my first two years of university. I mean, I may not live there but I AM from Manitoba.

4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

I am just finishing reading The Magic Mountain by German novelist Thomas Mann, in French translation, a brick of a book with the highest level of French possible, sentences an entire page long, like Proust!

What am I writing? A sort of Survival, except that mine will be the native version, i.e. an assessment of the impact of native literature on Canada since its birth some 30 years ago, in English, in French, AND in a few Native languages such as my native Cree.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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