A Minor Chorus: An Evening with Billy-Ray Belcourt

2022, Indigenous Voices, Arts + Culture

Massy Books, SFU Public Square, SFU Library, Massy Arts Society, SFU Galleries and Penguin Random House joined for an evening with daring literary talent Billy-Ray Belcourt and the launch of his book, A Minor Chorus. An urgent first novel about breaching the prisons we live inside, Belcourt will do a reading—introducing characters as alive and vast as the boreal forest—and Q&A, moderated by award-winning author Cecily Nicholson

The Book

An unnamed narrator abandons his unfinished thesis and returns to northern Alberta in search of what eludes him: the shape of the novel he yearns to write, an autobiography of his rural hometown, the answers to existential questions about family, love, and happiness. 

What ensues is a series of conversations, connections, and disconnections that reveals the texture of life in a town literature has left unexplored, where the friction between possibility and constraint provides an insistent background score. 

Whether he’s meeting with an auntie distraught over the imprisonment of her grandson, engaging in rez gossip with his cousin at a pow wow, or lingering in bed with a married man after a hotel room hookup, the narrator makes space for those in his orbit to divulge their private joys and miseries, testing the theory that storytelling can make us feel less lonely.

Fri, 16 Sep 2022


SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema
149 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, B.C.

Event partners

About the speakers

Author | Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He lives in Vancouver, where he is an Assistant Professor in the School of Creative Writing at UBC. His books are This Wound Is A World, NDN Coping Mechanisms, A History Of My Brief Body, and A Minor Chorus.

Moderator | Cecily Nicholson

Cecily Nicholson is the author of four books, and past recipient of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry. She teaches at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and collaborates with community impacted by carcerality and food insecurity.


Event summary

By Victoria Barclay, MA Student, UBC Department of Sociology

Billy-Ray Belcourt, writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation (located in what is colonially known as Northern Alberta) began the evening with a reading from his new book A Minor Chorus

In a conversation that followed with author and event moderator Cecily Nicholson, Belcourt explained that A Minor Chorus tells the story of a gay man who never comes out but still has the “ability to fully step into that identity.” Belcourt shared that this “represents many lives in Northern Alberta” –– a life that, as a teenager, he once imagined for himself. Each character portrays several people living in Northern Alberta. Speaking about the characters of the novel, Belcourt told the audience that he wanted a large cast, as “we are all minor characters,”— hence the title.

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Belcourt has an interest in nonlinear storytelling, saying “there are so many new beginnings,” which urged him to re-start the novel several times while writing.

Reminding us of the “fetish of the individual” in the West, Belcourt explored whether novels can use a voice that is communal, collective, and social. A Minor Chorus is “full of lessons about writing a novel.” Belcourt uses dialogue to tease out the collective voice. He described the narrator as an overthinker through which philosophical resonance can take place.

There are moments of poetry in Belcourt’s latest novel. “Some experiences turn us into poets. When the book collapses into poems, there are those moments,” he said.

Belcourt recognizes that this book may not be an easy read. Reflecting on the words of Toni Morrison, he said, “reading is an act of labour.” He finds it, “important that the book register the labour that went into it,” calling it an “intentional choice”— one that editors dislike.

Nicholson also read some questions posed by audience members:

How do you think your novels encourage others to come forward with their stories?

Belcourt explained that for so long queer Indigenous writing has been excluded from literature and that the little representation it gets is usually not great. Promoting Indigenous writing through his own writing is one of Belcourt’s goals.

Which character would you meet from your works and why?

Belcourt would meet the protagonist of A Minor Chorus because they share many similarities. 


The Djavad Mowafaghian cinema is located at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, a brief walk from Waterfront station and numerous bus stops. Bike stalls are available outside. Nearby parking is available at 500 & 400 W. Cordova St.

The building is accessible at street level on the Hastings side or via a ramp on the Cordova Street Courtyard side (across from JJ Bean Coffee). There are two ramp entry points, one is located against the building, near the entrance to the Woodward’s Westbank Atrium (which houses London Drugs and Nesters) and one is located against the building, beside the alley. Both the Hastings doors and the Cordova Courtyard doors can be operated by accessibility buttons located beside the doorways.

The venue has a gender-neutral washroom. All floors within the building are wheelchair accessible and serviced by elevators.