Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

CBC Canada Reads Interview Series: Wab Kinew

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Wab Kinew

We're counting down the days to the country's favourite literary competition — CBC Canada Reads.

We will be covering the debates again this year, and we're especially pleased to chat with the panellists prior to their literary clash. Today we welcome Wab Kinew, who will defend acclaimed author Joseph Boyden's newest novel, The Orenda (Penguin Canada).

Wab, who has made a name for himself as an award-winning broadcaster andhip-hop artist, talks to us about why he's going to the mat for The Orenda, his and Boyden's shared sartorial leanings and the best way to celebrate a Canada Reads victory.

Hosted by CBC personality and author Jian Ghomeshi, Canada Reads pits five fantastic Canadian books against one another in a (mostly) friendly competition, with each book championed by a Canadian celebrity in a series of broadcast debates. The 2014 debates run from March 3-6 and are centred around the theme of "What is the book that could change Canada?".

Stay tuned to Open Book: Toronto for interviews with more of the Canada Reads panellists and authors as the debates approach!

Open Book:

Tell us about why you chose this particular book as "the book to change Canada".

Wab Kinew:

I chose The Orenda because the relationship with indigenous people is the biggest social justice issue facing this country. And a big reason that it continues to be such a challenge is that most Canadians don't have an appreciation for the history of this country. Never mind that half of Canadians still don't really know what residential schools are and there are even less that have an understanding of treaties or the relationships that existed — mutually beneficial relationships — between the indigenous people and the Europeans when they first arrived here. The Orenda, it allows us to correct some of that, it allows us to revisit a time in Canada's history and to reexamine and retell that history in a way that doesn't simply turn native people into victims or bystanders on their way to extermination but rather as fully fleshed out human beings. People with wants, desires and needs, people who were working with the all the forces around them and were shaping the world that was in flux and in transition back then.

I also think that The Orenda introduces us in a very in depth and very substantial way to a lot of themes that are common in a lot of indigenous cultures. I think if we gain an appreciation for those insights that indigenous cultures have to offer us, they will help us to see the world around us in a different way and consequentially think about environmental protection in a different way

At the end of the day, The Orenda is a reexamination, a retelling of our history in a more authentic way. And if we have that as a foundation, then we can move forward into the future together.


What is your strategy going into the debates? Is "all fair" in books and war?


No, it's not all fair. Am I going to make the case that I'm a more respectable person than Stephen Lewis? Never, that's not going to happen. The guy is a giant. Everybody on the panel is distinguished and a person I respect in their own right. And what's more, the books are great. So I'm not going to attack people on a personal level, and I'm not going to attack the books in terms of their own merits. Rather, what this debate for me is about, is answering that question: how can this book change Canada and which among them is emblematic of the kind of change that Canada is most in need of? And I think I'm going to make a strong case that The Orenda is that one.


Where were you the first time you read your selected book?


I was in my living room at home.


What was it like meeting the author of your book? Did you know one another previously? How would you describe the author?


It was a lot of fun getting to hang out with Joseph Boyden for the day. We had never met previously though we had communicated through Facebook. He sent me a message of condolence when my father died over a year ago. And we sort of kept up that sort of Facebook correspondence here and there in the maybe fifteen months since. So it was cool to meet the guy in person. And then it was funny how we were wearing the same clothes when we showed up that day and then we had all these other things in common. We had a lot of laughs that day and I hope we get a chance to hang out again in March.

In terms of describing him, I think he's intense but he's also very savvy and very smart. And when it comes to the written word, he's very talented. I think he is one of the most important writers that Canada has ever produced. And what's more, he told me about some of the future writing projects he has and I cannot wait to see the books that are going to come from this guy.


Apart from your chosen book and the others in the competition, tell us about another book you'd love to see all of Canada reading.


I think that Richard Wagamese is a great place for people to start. It might be more accessible than Boyden's work. I think that One Indian Life, it might not get as much attention as some of his other titles but I think that that one is really sweet and it also just normalizes the indigenous experience in a way that would help a lot of Canadians.


If your writer wins the competition, how will you celebrate?


Food! I don't really drink or smoke or party or anything like that, so the one thing left that I can do that is fun is eat and go for walks. So I imagine we'll go for a walk and get a bite to eat.

Wab Kinew wears many hats, and has earned acclaim and awards in the many fields he's active in, from print journalism and broadcasting to academia to hip-hop. CBC audiences will already be familiar with his work hosting the acclaimed CBC Television series 8th Fire in 2012, and Postmedia News named him one of "Nine Aboriginal movers and shakers you should know." He has written extensively about issues affecting First Nations people in newspapers across Canada. For his journalism, he has been nominated for a Gemini Award, and won both an Adrienne Clarkson RTNDA Award (from the Association of Electronic Journalists) and a Gabriel Award. For his hip-hop, he has won an Aboriginal People's Choice Music Award. In addition to his work in media and music, Wab, who is a member of the Midewin, is deeply invested in improving the lives of the indigenous people of Canada. He is the director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg.

For more information about The Orenda please visit the Penguin Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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