Given the choice, Drew Hayden Taylor has found the best way to reach people is through humour.
The Ojibwe writer from Curve Lake First Nations in Ontario, sat down recently with a grade 11-12 drama class at Cobequid Educational Centre to talk about his experience as a writer, tackling Indigenous literature through multiple media including theatre, novels and essays.
“Part of my personal journey as a writer is to expand the spectrum of what is considered First Nations literature,” said Taylor.
“Most plays and novels coming out of native communities are either victim narratives or historical narratives. I have done what I can to combat that impression. One of the ways I do that is by working with humour and what I call contemporary storytelling.”
Addressing the class, Taylor talked about his work to incorporate Indigenous culture into fiction and science fiction genres, creating stories that are more likely to be read by a broader audience, while still educating readers on Indigenous ways and beliefs.
“These are exciting times where anything is possible in terms of exploring the native journey in literature,” said Taylor.
“You don’t have to be native to enjoy native literature or theatre. It explores the same kind of issues everyone is familiar with, it just uses different tools and a different template to explore that particular journey.”
Taylor took an interest in writing in his late teens, but only started writing in his late 20s after being told by his mother and English teacher that writing would get him nowhere. Since then, he has written numerous plays and novels, collections of essays on Indigenous culture and being half-native himself, and even writing for a few television shows.
One of Taylor’s plays, In a World Created by a Drunken God, has been remounted and was recently put on at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, 10 years after its initial run.
In the play, a young Indigenous man deals with the struggle of morality after a half-brother he never knew tracks him down and asks him to donate a portion of his liver to his father, who had abandoned him many years before.
“When I heard Neptune wanted to do this play, I was so happy,” said Taylor.
During his visit, Taylor took questions from students, who are in the middle of writing their own stories. He shared advice on creating characters, coming up with ideas and his experiences in the writing industry, before ending with a few First Nations-inspired jokes.
“Given a choice between making somebody laugh, cry or get angry, I’ll choose to make them laugh,” he said. “With laughter, you can teach and share as much through humour as you can with drama or tragedy.
“If you’re standing in the middle of the street on a soapbox yelling about all the evils of the world, chances are they’ll ignore you. If you give the same message wrapped with humour, they will listen, laugh and take that message with them.”