by Joshua Whitehead
While I was in Toronto, after a thorough research, a reporter asked me, “So, Josh, can you tell me how your grandmother’s death influenced your novel?” Since I was a young writer at the time, I came up with it Please, and reluctantly told the story of my grandmother’s murder in the 1960s – whereupon the reporter nodded, took notes, quickly thanked me and said goodbye. What shook me about this experience is that it wasn’t the first time that these kinds of extractive questions about personal stories and my experiences with trauma have surfaced, nor will it be the last, and while the reporter retained his agency and Wounds unencumbered, all with fresh insight into their critical perspective on my book, I found myself in downtown Toronto wracked with grief and struggling through a particularly intense bout of anxiety. It was carnage. I felt disembodied, reeling in an onslaught of noise pollution: honking cars, pedestrian chatter, sirens, the heavy rumble of a train. I found myself in Toronto’s downtown mall, the Eaton Centre, sitting in the food court sobbing uncontrollably, much to the dismay of those eating fast food around me.
How can the inquisition and dissemination of knowledge be anything but an attack of some kind if it is not done with protocol and ethics?
How can the inquisition and dissemination of knowledge be anything but an attack of some kind if it is not done with protocol and ethics? Under the guise of benevolence and diversity, how are queer indigenous writers, many of whom are at the forefront of a new generation in contemporary literature, coaxed into being fully available? How does the purchase of a novel – like my own, which sells for eighteen dollars here in Canada – allow a kind of permission on the part of the consumer to have full access to the life of a writer, to survey our bodies as if we were objects of curiosity ? Also, how does this very manuscript I am writing now position me on the metaphorical medical table, ready for inspection and autopsy?
How does such availability connect or intertwine with our understanding of MMIWG2S*?
I have to remember that like a body, a story can be eaten.
Perhaps what I’m saying is that a writer under the banner of “literature” as a queer indigenous person means creating a kind of peeping, voyeurism, stripping, anticipation of exposure of bodies, stories, communities, trauma. Creative non-fiction fails me here, as does the novel, as does poetry, as does the larger boundaries and boundaries of genre and form – I stylize and characterize myself and my writings within the fabrics of my ancestral and contemporary otâcimowak to do some of these questions too answering, unpacking those expectations, claiming the sovereignty of my body and, when I have to undress, do so on my own terms – another lesson Jonny taught me.
I claim the sovereignty of my stories.
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* Missing and murdered tribal women, girls and people of two minds
Excerpt from Making Love with the Land: Essays by Joshua Whitehead. Published in the US by the University of Minnesota Press. Copyright 2022 by Joshua Whitehead. Reprint after consultation with the publisher. All rights reserved.