Volume 92, Issue 18

Friday, October 2, 1998

homing in


Riding the mystic road

By Nina Chiarelli
Gazette Staff

The challenge facing many authors today is finding new and original ideas, along with story lines that not only appeal to readers but keep them turning pages. Tomson Highway, author of the newly released A Kiss by the Fur Queen, has no problem accomplishing either task.

Fresh from a lengthy sabbatical, Highway is currently on a book tour which brings him to Western on Oct. 5. Already critically acclaimed both in Canada and worldwide for his intense and realistic look at native culture, Highway has made the difficult transition from playwright to novelist look effortless – due largely to an engaging and soulful first novel.

"There are elements in A Kiss by the Fur Queen that are universally human enough to be understood by anybody," Highway says.

Highway feels being native has both helped and hindered his success among Canadian readers. "You take the situations around you and turn them into what you hope will be art," he explains.

Bringing a culturally specific, spiritual and magical flare to his stories, Highway presents the concerns of natives to non-native readers easily. Highway also proves that his storytelling ability can cut it with the best of them.

"Although the novel is fictionalized, it does have a strong autobiographical current running through it," Highway explains. A Kiss by the Fur Queen, both tragic and comedic, is the story of two young Cree brothers thrust into the unfriendly and sometimes painful world of a catholic residential school in Manitoba in the late 1950s.

Highway, himself a Cree Indian from Manitoba, draws upon his own life to paint the colourful story. Feeling the need to address the reasons behind his brother's recent death, Highway explains how cathartic is was to write this novel.

"There are stories that go around inside your brain, inside your heart, inside your body. They are stuck in there and after a while they drive you crazy if you don't get rid of them."

Having only received fame and recognition for his playwriting skills at the age of 36, Highway has struggled to earn praise in literary circles.

"I had to endure watching kids in their twenties grind out hit after hit, while I had failure after failure," Highway reflects. Yet after the successes Highway received from his first two plays, The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, it is no wonder his first novel is receiving such praise.

Tomson Highway brings his writings to Talbot College Theatre on Monday, Oct. 5th at 7 p.m..

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998