On Jan. 18, renowned Indigenous writer Thomas King visited Canadian Writers in Person to talk about his latest novel Sufferance (Harper Collins, 2021). York University teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.
Thomas King said that he doesn’t start with a clear idea of what a novel will be about. For him, writing is an exploratory process.
“I think I started Sufferance 16 to 17 times, and I would write about 100 pages and then I would throw them away into a drawer someplace because they didn’t have legs, they didn’t have heart, no spirit, just didn’t work,” said King. “It wasn’t interesting for me, and, as a writer my first rule is if I can’t interest myself with my own writing, I surely can’t interest anybody else. I’ve got to be able to surprise myself, I’ve got to be able to delight myself, and if I can’t do that, then there is no reason to continue on, so I just put that away and go back to the drawing board.”
Through this process, King eventually decided that he wanted to pursue social inequality in his writing. “I was thinking about the kinds of systems that we set up, the kinds of things we’ve allowed within our society,” said King, “and I’ve got to admit that the gap between the rich and the poor infuriates me. I thought, ‘what could I do to at least put a dent in that, or at least annoy the powers that be.’
“One of the storylines of Sufferance, which is the elimination of billionaires, pruning as it was, doing a bit of gardening, struck me as perfectly reasonable. These individuals are deadweight in a society, they do nothing,” he said. “They just spend money on themselves and they don’t care about anybody else. So, I thought, just get rid of them, but I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to talk about general inequality.”
In Sufferance, King depicts the dichotomy between a reserve town and a non-reserve town, and the kind of distances that exist there that are more than geographical.
King explained that his writing is inspired by real life and people, but not bound by it. While he hasn’t necessarily seen Indigenous communities that are always strong, he can imagine them.
“When I start writing about community, I try to imagine a community as I’d like to see it: a bit scraggly on the edges, but pretty strong at its heart,” he said
Like in his previous novel, Green Grass, Running Water, King includes elements of magic realism here, too. “I don’t see much of a difference between history and the present. I don’t see much between the mystic and what we like to call reality… I do like to step outside of hard reality ever so often and kind of wander in those grey zones that are just at the edge of our vision,” he said.
Canadian Writers in Person is a course offered in the Culture & Expression program in the Department of Humanities in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. For more information on the series, visit yorku.ca/laps/canwrite, or email Professor Gail Vanstone at firstname.lastname@example.org or Professor Leslie Sanders at email@example.com.