A Minor Chorus: An Evening with Billy-Ray Belcourt
2022, Indigenous Voices, Arts + Culture
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.
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.
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.