Artist Spotlight: Joseph Kakwinokanasum

Writer & Storyteller

Joseph has lived a full life, worked many an odd job, and found great success as a writer, storyteller, and speaker. A 2014 recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts: Creation Grant for Aboriginal Peoples Writers and Storytellers for his manuscript “Woodland Creetures” and a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio, Joseph has published and presented his work both regionally and internationally. Joseph’s fiction combines multiple cultural perspectives with a deep sense of play.

Check out his website: Starblanket Storyteller.

Welcome, Joseph, glad to have you. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and your work.

My name is Joseph Kakwinokanasum. I am a Cree writer and storyteller, of fiction and nonfiction. I also do the occasional speaking gig on Truth and Reconciliation, focusing on the long-term effects of trauma and its intergenerational transmission. 

What projects are you currently working on and what would you like people to know about them?

I am currently finishing the next draft of a novella called, My Indian Summer. It is a fictional telling about a native boy and his two best friends who find a bag of marijuana.

What brought you to writing and blogging?

My therapist suggested writing as a catharsis, he said that it might help me work through my PTSD, and he was right, writing did benefit my therapy. That led me to where I am now. So, I wanted to help the people out there who had similar experiences like mine. Writing a blog seemed like a good place to put that energy.

What lesson or lessons have you learned on your creative journey?

I’ve always known that I’m a natural storyteller, but writing a story is a completely different animal. I knew I had lots of stories to tell, my biggest lesson so far was discovering a huge difference between telling a story and writing a story.

What writers or artists are your biggest influences?

Currently my greatest influences have been Linda Pearce, a local painter and poet, J.J. Lee, Hiromi Goto, Betsy Warland, Kevin Chong, Jonina Kirton, Andrew Chesham, Aislinn Hunter, Derrel J. Mcleod, Eden Robinson, Waub Rice, and my close writing circle.

Like so many who work in independent publishing, you wear multiple hats. How do you see your various endeavors coming together as a single, unified life’s work? Or do you?

To me, life’s work is never finished. I see myself as a jack of all trades, but a master of none. In terms of the product, I am the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, so it is hard for me to see the work as a finished unified life’s work.

When you get out of bed on a work day, what drives you to do something creative? What gives you the motivation to contribute in your unique way?

I read a book on writing, I can’t remember the title, but there was one nugget of gold in it that really stuck in my mind. It was advice given by Hemmingway. He suggested leaving the tank half full at the end of the writing day so that when you wake up in the morning and look at the page, you will instantly know where to go from there. It’s getting started that is the hard part; keeping going is easy when you have a bit of a push.

What are some of the trends you notice in fiction? How do you feel about those trends?

Some of the trends I have noticed in fiction are the diversity of people writing fiction. No longer is it just white men being published, and it is because of this trend that I see more dynamic styles, voices, and genres of fiction. It is truly an exciting time to be a writer.

When you look at the world around you and the publishing industry in particular, how do you envision the future of creative writing, publishing, and/or fiction?

I see the future of creative writing as bright and independent; I see writers with choices, either, working alone and succeeding, or working in a more equal way with dynamic independent publishing companies with everyone’s best interests in mind. It sounds idealistic and like a dream, but hey, many years ago human flight was just a dream.

What would you like to see happen in the world of writing? What’s the change you want to see realized?

I think that the changes in the world of writing are happening now. The fact that an indigenous writer/storyteller has been asked to contribute to this amazing newsletter is proof of that change, and I am very honoured and happy to be part of it.

Is there a creative project farther out on your horizon about which you feel most excited?

I have a fiction project that is in the distance, however, the first draft is almost finished. I can’t really talk about it, but what I will say is this: it is a Cree Nation horror story.

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