Professional Profiles

Writer’s Studio grad expresses struggles of First Nations in book of poetry

May 06, 2013
Print

By Natasha Townsend

Wanda John-Kehewin had a goal when she entered The Writers Studio: to write with raw honesty. By speaking her truth, she would give people like her mother a voice and communicate the devastating effects of the colonization of First Nations people.


Wanda John-Kehewin. Submitted photo.

Today, two years after graduating from the Studio, a published book of poetry suggests that she’s accomplished what she set out to do.

In her book, called In the Dog House, which John-Kehewin describes as a “healing journey,” she uses her own pain and the pain of others to create understanding around the hardships that First Nations people faced. Her poems explore sensitive topics like alcohol addiction, abandonment, religion, and sexual abuse.

John-Kehewin has always been a writer. The first toys she remembers are a pencil and paper, and throughout her life, she’s used writing as a way to process her experiences and understand her pain.

A few years ago, she began to wonder about taking her writing further. She’d shared her work at readings and published a few magazine pieces, but could she write as a career? A reading by Betsy Warland, a local author, gave her an opportunity to find out.

One of Warland’s students handed John-Kehewin a pamphlet for The Writer’s Studio, a creative writing program at SFU that Warland used to direct. John-Kehewin was immediately intrigued, but there was one problem: she had only ten days to produce the 20 pieces of writing she needed to apply.  Amazingly, she did it—and was accepted. She completed the program in 2011.

SFU creative writing program took John-Kehewin's work to the next level

During her time in The Writer’s Studio, John-Kehewin took what she describes as her “therapeutic journal writing” to the next level.

In the Dog House by Wanda John-Kehewin
was released by Talonbooks in April 2013.

“Being with people and getting feedback helped a lot,” says John-Kehewin. “It changed my writing by making it more detailed; having that group support system was also very helpful.”

The same support system helped her as she began work on In the Dog House, which she was able to write thanks to an emerging writers’ grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. A publishing connection helped get her book noticed—and Talonbooks released it on April 16, 2013.

John-Kehewin recently finished promoting In the Dog House on a media tour that took her across the country.

Ultimately, the poet hopes her work will encourage others “to talk about the truth without shame and stigma attached, for people who are still on the reserve who have suffered. I am hoping to plant a seed, letting them know that it is okay and not their fault.”

Wanda John-Kehewin will be reading her work at Lunch Poems @ SFU on May 15.