I didn’t understand what “creative non-fiction” was supposed to be until I read the first two magnificent essays in this collection, ironically even before Joshua Whitehead begins his somewhat disparaging essay on the subject. As with any art, there’s a strong sense of “I know it when I see it”, and I definitely knew I was looking at creative non-fiction with the first two essays, Who Names The Rez Dog rez? and My Body Is A Hinterland.
So it was interesting to see the entire subgenre dissected by the author in the essay immediately following, On Ekphrasis And Emphasis. I enjoyed the critique of Western thought that consigns the mystical phenomenon of everyday Indigenous life to, at best, magical realism, as this is a discussion I’ve recently been having about Southeast Asian experiences as well. I rather wish the author had engaged with this topic more as a conversation on that consignment’s origins in post-Enlightenment thought tho, whose original authors sought to escape the oppression of Western religious/mainstream authority on writing, a struggle and aim shared by modern Indigenous writing. This isn’t, ofc, a defense of rationalism: it just feels counterproductive, especially in a collection of essays searching for connection and understanding, to highlight only the differences and not consider the mutual goals.
I did appreciate overall the way this collection of essays engaged both with the NDN experience and with Cree as a living language (the essay A Geography Of Queer Woundings is phenomenal!) Most importantly, the frankness of Mr Whitehead’s discussion of the intersection between being queer and being Indigenous was a welcome exploration. I loved the grace of his dissection of a break up with a fellow queer Native in the essay Me, The Joshua Tree. He’s also admirably blunt about his struggles with eating disorders, and how that connects to his history of eating the pain of his loved ones, in one of the collection’s most brilliant extended metaphors.
There were bits, of course, that felt self-indulgent — so few memoir-based full-length writings avoid that trap — but Mr Whitehead’s writing mostly manages to pull back from true excess. I was actually surprised after the fact to find that he’s in his early 30s: his work feels more considered than that of most of his age peers, but I suppose he’s had a lot more to deal with than they have, after all.
Speaking of age, I really loved his essay on The Year In Video Gaming. The frank discussion on how video games are a much needed refuge and support for kids who feel alienated was both heartfelt and spot-on. I especially appreciated the way he pointed out how mainstream video games, and role-playing games in particular, allow children and the under-socialized to practice conversations and social interactions in a controlled, low-stakes environment. Further, they allow thoughtful players to consider what constitutes ethical behavior in-game and how that carries over to the real world, an engagement with storytelling that is very much in line with the overall aims of this collection.
And that, at its heart, is what Making Love With The Land is really about: what it means to tell stories, especially from the perspective of someone who’s queer and Indigenous. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the art of language and communication, and essential reading for anyone seeking to understand more about queer and/or NDN experiences. Recommended.
Making Love With The Land by Joshua Whitehead was published November 15 2022 by Univ Of Minnesota Press and is available from all good booksellers, including