Wanda John-Kehewin (she, her, hers; photo credit: Tammi Quin) is a Cree writer who uses her work to understand and respond to the near destruction of First Nations cultures, languages, and traditions. When she first arrived in Vancouver on a Greyhound bus, she was a nineteen-year-old carrying her first child, a bag of chips, a bottle of pop, thirty dollars, and a bit of hope. After many years of travelling (well, mostly stumbling) along her healing journey, she shares her personal life experiences with others to shed light on the effects of trauma and how to break free from the "monkeys in the brain."
Now a published poet, fiction author, and film scriptwriter, she writes to stand in her truth and to share that truth openly. She is the author of the Dreams series of graphic novels. Hopeless in Hope is her first novel for young adults.
Wanda is the mother of five children, two dogs, two cats, three tiger barbs (fish), and grandmother to one super-cute granddog. She calls Coquitlam home until the summertime, when she treks to the Alberta prairies to visit family and learn more about herself and Cree culture, as well as to continuously think and write about what it means to be Indigenous in today's times. How do we heal from a place of forgiveness?
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
first book helped me feel like I was a writer. I did think after one book, it
was easy street from there (Not). Now that I am on my 9th book (two
were grade one and two readers) it feels like I am a writer. I am still not on
easy street but I love what I do!
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was such
an easy form for me to write about trauma or things that were traumatic because
to a point I could hide behind details and make inferences to things and not
actually say the traumatic thing or event.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I think my
work or any work for that matter comes out when it needs to come out. My
writing is sort of a conspiracy between the ancestors and the universe! I think
I am lead to write what it is I am supposed to write about. Sometimes the
writing comes quickly and other times, not so much. My work comes out in bursts
with a lot of help from my editors. Editors are so wonderful. Without them,
that is what it would be, bursts of ideas!
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I work on
poems first and collect one-liners and then it takes shape later on. It comes
to fruition when there is a container for it. I do not start with a container,
it sort of reveals itself afterwards.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do like
readings. I also like to share and I think it is a big part of teaching about
Indigeneity on a micro level, I believe when we get to know people, and when
people get to know me, we can get past stereotypes and stigmas and perhaps even
have our biases challenged.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I think the
biggest thing I do with my work is stand in my truth which, I believe helps
others who come from trauma to stand in theirs as well. When we stand in our
truth and aren’t ashamed of it, we can begin to heal.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
This is a big question and I am sure has many avenues but to me, the role of the writer in larger culture depends on genre. I can only answer thoroughly from a poet's perspective, YA, and perhaps graphic form but the answer will be different each time. I think the role of the writer is to tell a relatable story in whatever genre it is meant to be in in order to reach the largest audience. It also depends on what the author’s intent is with it, my poetry, I would say is to help others stand in their truth, and my YA is to help others understand and offer some answers to those in the process with similar experiences as my character.
On a macro
level, the role of the writer should be alongside what we as humans need. Some
will be fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, YA, graphic form, plays etc. I
would say there is not one way to tell a story but the different ways we tell
it will attract the different audiences.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find it
essential, their name is on the line as well. Editing is their livelihood and
so they are going to do the best they can as well.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
your truth, Vera Manuel.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I have had some great editors who have helped make that transition smooth and
very informative. I am a better writer because of them.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
only write for two hours\ on Sundays to finish the 3rd part of the
Graphic Novel, Dream series. It will look different as things change,
for sure. Change is the only thing I can depend on and I have to find ways to
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
experiences, memories, feelings and connection to spiritual self and ancestors
are also places books come from.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
was someone who started me on my writing path to actually believing that I
could share my poems and stories without crying and grieving and that one day,
it would be possible for me.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would be
a philosopher! Or a spiritualist! But still a writer!
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
done as a way to make sense of colonial history within the Indigenous
communities. I needed to understand it and poetry gave me the ability to
process and to think critically.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The third and last part of my graphic novel series, Visions from Spirit.