Indigiqueerness: A Conversation About Storytelling by Joshua Whitehead, in dialogue with Angie Abdou

Indigiqueerness is a lean, skinny book full of meat. At just under 100 pages, it is a comprehensive dive into who is Joshua Whitehead. And, through this vessel, what makes a storyteller?

With 10 purposeful questions directed to Joshua Whitehead, orchestrated by Angie Abdou, this is a thoroughly progressive plunge into the heart and soul of a Canadian writer. It is “part dialogue, part collage and part memoir” (AU Press), about storytelling, conversation, writing, identity and memory, and so much more. Both Whitehead and Abdou are powerhouses in Canadian literature. They are recognized, award-winning, multi-nominated authors, each with a Ph.D. from the University of Calgary. Both have been at the top of the literary scene and retain their stronghold, with good reason.

To have this duo come together in one book, Indigiqueerness: A Conversation About Storytelling is a feat of momentous magnitude. Angie Abdou poses the questions, beginning with 10 and ending with 1. The questions have increasing depth and detail, with each segment being a natural progression, and Joshua Whitehead providing candid and generous answers to each. There is a seamless connection between both the questions and answers, with never a break in tone or a misplacement of thought. This applies to both the authors in the dialogue as well. The connection between the two people is obvious, although, Abdou says they had never met in person, at this point. This work offers the reader an insight into Joshua’s writing, his characters, Jonny Appleseed, and indeed, his soul. The conversational approach is accomplished by Angie’s skill and guidance in posing the questions, and Joshua’s eagerness to share the beautiful and the ugly parts carried within the artist. Abdou gently steers the conversation to the inner workings of Whitehead. No topics are spared, all are given up honestly, succinctly, and at times humourously, by Whitehead.

AA. Beautiful. I love that idea about your literary character eating your pain – a very useful kind of parasite.
JW. I think so too! Then I had a residency at the Banff Centre, which was so beautiful, living and writing in that recharging space. I was writing ten or eleven hours a day and falling asleep in the mountains. The Blackfoot people say Banff is a ceremonial special place where you’re not supposed to stay overnight. The area can cause very vivid dreams. I put some of my lucid Banff dreams into [Jonny Appleseed]. … Not only was I so inspired by Banff, but I was also visited by these dark dreams that I tried to churn and knit back into some joy and beauty.

From pages 43-44

The connection captured in the book led me to reach out to Angie Abdou to find out more about the process. She invited me to take a look at the video and witness first-hand the conversation. I jumped at the opportunity. My main question: What was the dynamic between these two commanding and compelling people in the video? Were there edits and insertions making it appear to be this steady flow of discovery we read in the book?

After viewing the exchange, I had to admit it. I did see something rare. I saw that the dynamic chemistry between Joshua Whitehead and Angie Abdou had been captured completely and wove into the book, Indigiqueerness. There was nothing missed, nor manufactured, from the video conversation to the book form. The transformation from video to book transcends the words on the page. It is quite simply an experience to be able to immerse oneself in the dialogue between these two artists by reading Indigiqueerness. The quality of the language used, with questions posed and their answers, is a beautiful dance, each step within sequence and duality.

It is quite simply an experience to be able to immerse oneself in the dialogue between these two artists by reading Indigiqueerness.

Indigiqueerness is a carefully executed exposé about being Indigenous, Two-Spirited, and queer. This book is for those who identify as Indigenous, queer, Cree, or those who identify as a writer of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. This is for writers, teachers, and students, but mostly this book is for those who are human. Indigiqueerness is at its heart about Humanness. It is filled with insight and what it takes to remain true to our psyche and to our artistic and authentic selves. Indigiqueerness: A Conversation About Storytelling by Joshua Whitehead, in dialogue with Angie Abdou is nothing short of required reading for humans, and is not to be missed.

AA. I feel like you work against expectations, including genre expectations, in many ways. For example, you include many popular culture references, which is not always what we have associated with Indigenous literature traditionally. Does the reader need to recognize all these references? You don’t take time to explain them. The reader either gets them or not. Can you talk about your goal with all the references to movies and songs and celebrities and such?
JW. It’s funny. … I’m a fan of anime. I think there’s a lot of sharing between Japanese oral histories and Indigenous oral histories, and full-metal indigiqueer explores that connection. … Indigenous people are always deferred to in the past. I didn’t set an age for Jonny. I didn’t want him to have an age. I wanted him to be an avatar too so people can put themselves into his body. He works like a skin you can put on.

From pages 59-60

Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw, Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1). He is the author of the bestselling novel Jonny Appleseed (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018), longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and winner of Canada Reads; and the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer (Talonbooks, 2017), which was the winner of the Governor General’s History Award for the Indigenous Arts and Stories Challenge in 2016. He is also the editor of Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020). His most recent book is a work of creative non-fiction entitled Making Love with the Land (Knopf, 2022) that details mental health, queerness, and Indigeneity, and was shortlisted for the Writers’ Trust Hilary Weston Award for Non-Fiction.

Angie Abdou holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from University of Calgary and has published seven books (and edited two collections of essays). Her first novel, The Bone Cage, was a finalist for Canada Reads 2011. Her most recent novel, In Case I Go (2017), was a finalist for the 2017 Banff Mountain Book Award in the fiction and poetry category. Of In Case I Go, Vancouver Sun says: “A spectacularly successful novel. This book is highly recommended to anyone who cares about strong, moving fiction and about social justice.” Chatelaine Magazine named it one of 2017’s most riveting mystery novels. Angie’s first book of nonfiction, a memoir called Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom, was featured on CBC’s Sunday Edition and CTV’s The Social. It hit the Canadian bestseller list and the #1 spot on Amazon Canada’s bestselling hockey books. Of Home Ice, a starred review in New York’s Booklist claims: “The book is a first-rate memoir and a fine example of narrative nonfiction. It’s also a must-read for parents with youngsters who play organized sports.” She recently released a mother-daughter-wilderness memoir called This One Wild Life. Marni Jackson says: “This One Wild Life is written with great honesty, insight, and love. Nature needs more friends (and mothers) like Angie Abdou!” Angie Abdou is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Athabasca University.

Publisher: Athabasca University Press (April 25, 2023)
Paperback 7″ x 6″ | 96 pages
ISBN: 9781771993913

Managing Editor

TMR’s Managing Editor Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere.  She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.

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