A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt

A Minor Chorus tells the story of a young unnamed narrator who becomes disillusioned with academic life, abandons his Ph.D. dissertation and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. 

Readers will struggle to separate Billy-Ray Belcourt’s main character from the author: both are Cree; both are academics; both are gay; both are writing a novel. Or maybe “struggle” is the wrong word since Belcourt’s narrative resides comfortably within the correlation the reader will inevitably make, one that grounds the action, and gives it depth and emotional heft. 

“Belcourt’s narrative resides comfortably within the correlation the reader will inevitably make, one that grounds the action, and gives it depth and emotional heft.”

The narrator’s disillusionment is sparked by two things: a sense that his academic writing does not reflect who he is—that it is in fact an “alienating” and repressive instrument that does not allow him to express his gay indigenous self—and the “racism and bureaucratic violence” he regularly encounters on campus. The narrator’s journey takes him north, away from the ivory-tower security of his life in Edmonton to the reservation where he grew up and back to the people who nurtured him through his youth but whom he left behind when he followed a path that landed him on a university campus. 

Central to the narrator’s story is another story, that of his cousin Jack. The two were close companions in childhood, but their paths diverged early. Years later, after the narrator left the reservation and moved to the city, Jack became a statistic and a familiar and tragic cliché: the young indigenous man swallowed up by the white man’s justice system. In his efforts to reclaim his identity, the narrator conducts a series of interviews: with his great-aunt Mary (Jack’s grandmother), a middle-aged gay newspaper publisher named Michael, with Jack himself. The narrator tells Michael that he’s writing “an autobiography of a town, of rural Alberta,” and that the theoretical basis of his work is that “place governs the practice of self-fabrication.” 

The narrator’s quest for personal clarity is as fascinating as it is confounding. A Minor Chorus, structured in an open-ended, circular fashion, is an elegantly written novel in which resolution is elusive. It raises questions about the meaning of love and colonialism’s disfiguring legacy but chooses to leave many of these questions unanswered. 

After his conversation with Jack, the narrator sits down to write his novel. But does he complete it? Does the process of writing provide solace and self-realization? Is the narrator’s novel the one we’re holding in our hands? With regard to these questions there’s a good chance Belcourt expects readers to reach their own conclusions.

BILLY-RAY BELCOURT (he/him) is a writer from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize for his debut collection, This Wound Is a World, which was also a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. His bestselling memoir, A History of My Brief Body, won the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award. A recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and an Indspire Award, Belcourt is Assistant Professor of Indigenous Creative Writing at UBC.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Hamish Hamilton (Sept. 13 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0735242003
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0735242005

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.