Indie Reading Room: Michelle Sylliboy

Kicking off our Indie Reading Room this fall is L’nuk (Mi’kmaq) artist and author Michelle Sylliboy who in her debut collection of poetry Kiskajeyi: I AM READY (Rebel Mountain Press) preserves the complex L’nuk language, Komqwejwi’kasikl through word art and paired photographs. Read on for our Q&A with Michelle, and check out the ALU Instagram to hear Michelle read from her book.Bonus: get 20% off Kiskajeyi: I AM READY right here on All Lit Up with promo code READINGROOM until Sept 24!


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All Lit Up: Tell us a little about your book and how it came to be. Michelle Sylliboy: The book is part of my Doctoral Research to revitalize the Mi’kmaq hieroglyphic language known as suckerfish writings or as my elders say komqwej’wikasikl. Having written poetry for the last 30 years, I always had a lifelong desire to publish my first book in my written language. So, when a publisher emailed with an invitation to publish my work, I knew it was time. While doing my field work, I kept thinking how can I make this meaningful. What could I do to create something that would inspire my people to use our shared written language in a modern-day format? As a poet it was natural for me to create komqwej’wikasikl poetry. Looking back I am thankful the inspiration gods poured out of me because it is the first time the komqwej’wikasikl (hieroglyphic) language has been published as poetry.
 ALU: Tell us about the cover design of your book.As an interdisciplinary artist, I am fortunate that I work in different mediums and photography is one of the mediums. One day, I had the best photoshoots of my entire career. There is a lot to say when you take photos during magic hour—you can never take a bad photo. When I went home, I downloaded all my images and I was stunned that every single shot was incredible. I knew I had something, but I didn’t know to what extent. That day I purposely took photos of what reminded me of the komqwej’wikasikl language. I see the language in nature. My icicle’s book cover came out of that wonderful day of shooting. The ice reminds of the lines in the written language.ALU: Do you have any writing rituals?MS: I write when inspiration hits or peace and quiet. I adore peace and quiet and good music. Instruments making sound. I suppose I am eclectic when it comes to rituals. I do light my sweet grass for inspiration when I know I need to write. ALU: What, outside of literature, inspires and informs your work?Nature inspires my work. Environmental work and preservation of our land inspires my work and people in general.ALU: What’s a book you recently read that you would recommend?I have four favourites. Pablo Neruda’s selected poems, I Explain a Few Things; Jules Arita Koostachin’s book of poetry Unearthing Secrets, Gathering Truths; Hope Matters by Lee Maracle and her two daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter; and of course Hiromi Goto’s Half World. OMG her book is a must read; she literally takes you to half world.ALU: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.MS: I come across as an extrovert, but I’m really an introvert. Haha. I contradict myself daily.

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Michelle Sylliboy, a Mi’kmaq (L’nu) artist/author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised on unceded territory in We’koqmaq Cape Breton. Arriving on the art scene in 1995, her Interdisciplinary art practice embodies some of her own life experiences which has led her to work with emerging and professional artists from all over Turtle Island. Michelle recently moved back to her territory after living and working on unceded Coast Salish territory for the past twenty-seven years. While in Vancouver, she learned to capture and intrigue the art community with her Interdisciplinary style of work. She gathers much of her inspiration from personal tales, the environment, and her L’nuk culture. PhD Candidate, Michelle is working on her Philosophy of Education Doctorate Degree fieldwork where she will combine her artistic background and education by creating a L’nuk Komqwejwi’kasikl (Hieroglyphic) curriculum with L’nuk teachers and Elders in Cape Breton. Michelle begins her new tenure track position this fall at STFX University in Antigonish NS.

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Buy Kiskajeyi- I AM READY for 20% off on All Lit Up until September 24 with the Indie Reading Room promo code READINGROOM. Check out Michelle in the ALU Indie Reading Room on Instagram, and stay tuned every Thursday until November 12 for more author readings and Q&As.