From Oral to Written

By (author): Tomson Highway

Edited by: Jordan Abel

Aboriginal Canadians tell their own stories, about their own people, in their own voice, from their own perspective.
If as recently as forty years ago there was no recognizable body of work by Canadian writers, as recently as thirty years ago there was no Native literature in this country. Perhaps a few books had made a dent on the national consciousness: The Unjust Society by Harold Cardinal, Halfbreed by Maria Campbell, and the poetry of Pauline Johnson and even Louis Riel. Now, three decades later, Native people have a literature that paints them in colours that are psychologically complex and sophisticated. They have a literature that validates their existence, that gives them dignity, that tells them that they and their culture, their ideas, their languages, are important if not downright essential to the long-term survival of the planet.

Tomson Highway’s From Oral to Written is a study of Native literature published in Canada between 1980 and 2010, a catalogue of amazing books that sparked the embers of a dormant voice. In the early 1980s, that voice rose up to overcome the major obstacle Native people have as writers: they are not able to write in their own Native languages, but have to write in the languages of the colonizer, languages that simply cannot capture the magic of Native mythology, the wild insanity of Trickster thinking. From Oral to Written is the story of the Native literary tradition, written – in multiple Aboriginal languages, in French, and in English – by a brave, committed, hard-working, and inspired community of exceptional individuals – from the Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii to the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.

Leading Aboriginal author Tomson Highway surveys the first wave of Native writers published in Canada, highlighting the most gifted authors and the best stories they have told, offering non-Native readers access to reconciliation and understanding, and at the same time engendering among Native readers pride in a stellar body of work.

AUTHOR

Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway was born near Maria Lake, Manitoba in 1951. His father, Joe, was a hunter, fisherman and sled-dog racer, and his family lived a nomadic lifestyle. With no access to books, television or radio, Highway’s parents would tell their children stories; thus began Highway’s life-long interest in the oral tradition of storytelling. When he was six, Highway was taken from his family and placed in residential school in The Pas; he subsequently went to high school in Winnipeg and then travelled to London to study at the University of Western Ontario, earning a music degree in 1975 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1976. Instead of becoming a professional concert musician as he had at one point contemplated, however, Highway decided instead to dedicate his life to the service of his people. Fluent in Cree, English and French, he was for six years the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts, the first and most enduring Native professional company in Canada which he also helped found. From 1975 to 1978 Highway worked as a cultural worker for the Native Peoples’ Resource Centre. He has worked for the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture and also for the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres as a program analyst. From 1983 to 1985 he worked as a freelance theatre artist before becoming the artistic director of the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Company in 1986. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and Concordia University. Tomson Highway is widely recognized for his tremendous contribution to the development of Aboriginal theatre in both Canada and around the world. In 1994, he was inducted into the Order of Canada, the first Aboriginal writer to be so honoured.

AUTHOR

Jordan Abel

Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer from Vancouver. He is the author of The Place of Scraps (winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Un/inhabited, and Injun (winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize). Abel’s latest project NISHGA (forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart in 2020) is a deeply personal and autobiographical book that attempts to address the complications of contemporary Indigenous existence and the often invisible intergenerational impact of residential schools. Abel recently completed a PhD at Simon Fraser University, and is currently working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.


Reviews

“A rich compilation of Indigenous literature that will be a gift for Canadian school curriculums, also well suited for those Canadians in search of understanding and reconciliation. More importantly this book is what Indigenous people need because, like me, they will discover their lives in the many stories. If I had this as a teenager, I would have understood that I was not alone in the darkness I lived. I would have seen that others found a way out. Bravo, Tomson Highway!”
―Bev Sellars, author of They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School and Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival


“We gratefully acknowledge the work of those artists who have come before, and those that continue, building bridges across our cultures through their authentic words. Tomson Highway’s readings each demonstrate that within our stories, we pass along our teachings and we build upon the strength inside each one of us. We are arriving. Back to our lands, back to our stories, back to our truths, unwrapping old words and sharing wisdom. We, are coming home.”
—Terri Mack, Strong Nations


“Intended as a reference work, and not a strictly academic one, this book is a gateway and a guide to an exponentially growing literary tradition that we find already in 2010 was more than adequate for a life’s work of study.”
―Abu-Isa Webb, Goodreads.com


“Even as a long-time fan of the brilliant work of Tomson Highway, I was surprised to be so impressed with the scope of this excellent introduction to so many wonderful Canadian Indigenous authors, largely neglected by the mainstream media. It is a beautifully detailed catalogue of 176 summaries comprising an Indigenous tradition of published works, established by a brave and inspired group of exceptional individuals, bookended by a thoughtful prologue and epilogue.”
—Derek McPhail, Goodreads.com


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Excerpts & Samples ×

Aboriginal Canadians tell their own stories, about their own people, in their own voice, from their own perspective.
If as recently as forty years ago there was no recognizable body of work by Canadian writers, as recently as thirty years ago there was no Native literature in this country. Perhaps a few books had made a dent on the national consciousness: The Unjust Society by Harold Cardinal, Halfbreed by Maria Campbell, and the poetry of Pauline Johnson and even Louis Riel. Now, three decades later, Native people have a literature that paints them in colours that are psychologically complex and sophisticated. They have a literature that validates their existence, that gives them dignity, that tells them that they and their culture, their ideas, their languages, are important if not downright essential to the long-term survival of the planet.

Tomson Highway’s From Oral to Written is a study of Native literature published in Canada between 1980 and 2010, a catalogue of amazing books that sparked the embers of a dormant voice. In the early 1980s, that voice rose up to overcome the major obstacle Native people have as writers: they are not able to write in their own Native languages, but have to write in the languages of the colonizer, languages that simply cannot capture the magic of Native mythology, the wild insanity of Trickster thinking. From Oral to Written is the story of the Native literary tradition, written – in multiple Aboriginal languages, in French, and in English – by a brave, committed, hard-working, and inspired community of exceptional individuals – from the Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii to the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.

Leading Aboriginal author Tomson Highway surveys the first wave of Native writers published in Canada, highlighting the most gifted authors and the best stories they have told, offering non-Native readers access to reconciliation and understanding, and at the same time engendering among Native readers pride in a stellar body of work.

Reader Reviews

Details

Dimensions:

432 Pages
9in * 229mm * 6.5in * 165mm * 1in25mm
635gr
22.5oz

Published:

August 15, 2017

City of Publication:

Vancouver

Country of Publication:

CA

Publisher:

Talonbooks

ISBN:

9781772011166

9780889227811 – EPUB

9781772015690 – EPUB

Book Subjects:

LITERARY CRITICISM / Canadian

Featured In:

Non-Fiction

Language:

eng

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