Gift Guide Week: Téa Mutonji

Our annual Gift Guide Week is back with hand-picked selections by authors we admire for all kinds of readers on your holiday gift list. First up is author, poet and Writers’ Trust finalist Téa Mutonji who shares six choice titles for everyone on your list from best friends to sisters to “those who have wanderlust, culturelust, lifelust.”


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For coloured girls: Voodoo Hypothesis

Sometime in my early twenties, I began to feel a strong detachment between myself and my friends. I went to a predominantly white high-school, my best friends were (still are) predominantly white women. They are strong and important women I love and respect. But when it comes to coming into my own body, my blackness, my sexuality, my ancestral history, I began to feel isolated from the people in my life. Canisia’s book is one of the first few I read when I was 22, and finding the confidence to say things like: I’m a black woman, and I’m proud of what that means, socially, spiritually, and historically. This complicated and careful poetry book, provided me with a kind of intimate connectivity I struggled to get from my personal circle. All of a sudden, this person I did not know, this poet, was singing my own worries, singing my own celebration. Combining vulnerability and wisdom, Voodoo Hypothesis does just that: brings you closer to what we mean when we say “black girl magic.”  

For those who have wanderlust, culturelust, lifelust: Rouge

Every year I plan to take a trip, a vacation, a drive across Ontario. Every year, I fail, deeply and romantically. There’s always an excuse. There’s always something stopping me from leaving. There’s always some unexpected financial drama. 
Well, what if a book could allow you to visit multiple places, multiple cultures, multiple beats, all at once? This is what Adrian De Leon successfully does with his book, Rouge. Take this journey in and out of a vibrant city, take with you your purse, your love for beef patties, and your sense of imagination. It’s more than a beautiful portrait of Scarborough (though admittedly, the music, sensory details, the familiarness of home is what keeps me coming back to this book).This book deserves a reader whose heart is open to being taught, being challenged, and being exposed. It’s an entire train ride (literally) from one end of home to the other. The goal is to find yours somewhere in between Victoria Park and Royal York and beyond.  

For my high-school best friend: Set-Point

 In high-school I was the queen of bad ideas. First it was drinking in between classes, then it was stealing packs of cigarettes, then it was smoking weed before the morning bell. Somehow, for every crazy idea, my high-school best friend was game. And sometimes, her ideas were much more elaborate and insane than mine. But we weren’t afraid of life. We were ready, and stood challenging, eager to take what came our way.I still think of her now and again. I wonder what her twenties must of been like. I picture her blonde hair in a high ponytail, as she gets ready to write an essay, twenty minutes before it’s due. I picture her juggling multiple boyfriends, jobs and assignments all at once, and still finding time to be alone with herself. I picture her laughing, and I picture her strengthening her friendships the only way she knows how: Alfredo pasta.This is the book I would recommend to her. For Lucy, the twenty-something aspiring screenwriter who takes up digital sex work to pay the bills. I would sign on the cover page: in another life, which one of us would be Lucy? Circle me or you.And I’d hope she replied back, saying something totally casual like, Lucy doesn’t compare, which ultimately would be substituted for: I miss you too.Fawn Parker delivers a straight-out-of-a-box-millennial character, filled with all the angst and passion that makes us feel far too alive, all the time.  

For the boy who yelled at me at Target: Disfigured

A few years ago I was working the fitting room at Target. We had only one room for accessibility. One day, I was doing my job wrong and a lady with a full shopping cart wanted to to use the accessibility changing room to try on her many outfits and I let her. About ten minutes later, I had a lineup. Amongst, I had a boy in a wheelchair. Room after room, I managed to clear the changing room lineup in record time and the boy waited for the only one he could use to become available. I began to feel guilty and shitty, because I knew that the woman was having a fashion show for herself, taking several photos to instantly send to her friends, and that she wouldn’t be coming out any time soon.The boy asked me “Why do you think that is? One for me, and several for the rest of them.”I didn’t have an answer. I could tell by the way he was looking at me, this wasn’t his first time in this predicament. And I could also tell, in that moment, I had failed him. I could tell, in that moment, he was wanting to be heard, and he was wanting to feel less alone and instead. I went into the office to avoid him altogether.Finally, when the woman came out, he looked at me, and then at her, and then he said: “You have no idea.”That’s it. That’s all.I wish I could find him today. I wish I could give him this book by Amanda Leduc. I wish I could say: I see you, and I respect you, and I believe in you. (Note: Disfigured will be published February 4th, but we’re putting it on your radar for future gift giving.)

For my ex-partner and almost lover, to yours: Personals 

 You are everything I’ve ever wanted in a person. In a friend, a brother, a sister, a stranger, a colleague. You are to me, short from perfect. This one book I actually gave to you, and how quickly you flipped through it, and asked to keep it, the tip of your nose, reddening, but, from the cold. This is the book of my greatest desires, my most deepest curiosity. How loneliness makes us most vulnerable, how the lack of connectivity and the hyperness of it all has the same effect: the ending, the beginning unwinding. It’s a book about love in all its forms. Love in all its temperatures. Now when I think of loving, I think of you and this book on your nightstand table, and I think thank God. This, you, one of those things I did right. Thank God: when I’ll remember the first person I came close to loving, utterly and uncontrollably, there you’ll be on a park bench.  

For my siblings: The Woo-Woo

 We come from such a weird familyWhere growing up, we needed humour to guess us throughWe come from such a weird familyWhere people dancing on top of stables, and sober was a Tuesday morningWe come grom such a weird familyWhere nothing ever said was ever meant, but a riddle We come from such a weird familyWhere the less you knew, the more you were We come from such a weird familyWhere mental illnesses was a fable, a ouncline, a toastWe come from such a weird familyWhen people looked at us, they said “how come?We come from such a weird familyAnd if we couldn’t write, we couldn’t live.* * * Thanks so much to Téa for these fantastic book picks!