Leanne is a gifted writer who brings passion and commitment to her storytelling and who has demonstrated an uncommon ability to manage an impressive range of genres from traditional storytelling to critical analysis, from poetry to the spoken word, from literary and social activism to song-writing. She is, in my opinion, one of the more articulate and engaged voices of her generation.
Wasaeyaban (Anishinaabe)—the first light, just before dawn. I don’t think writers make up stories, stories run around looking for a writer to tell them (if they are any good) otherwise they tend to be trite in the telling. I am glad these stories found the delicate hand and steel-wired beautiful voice of Leanne Simpson to bring them alive. Leanne is a listener and she was fully awake when she listened at dawn to all these stories and committed them to these trees (right, that would be pages, even though pages are really trees) and birthed a marvelous collection of stories (that are also poems) to illuminate the Anishinaabe experience in a way that turns the light on inside the reader—not just any light, but dawn’s first light, the light that counts, the light that stories our very lives, makes us plan something completely different from the sticky mud of same ol’, same ol’. Islands of Decolonial Love is the sort of book I have been looking for all my life—the kind of book that is going to make me a good writer, a good listener, a good citizen—it is going to wake up everything that is brilliant in everyone that reads it.
How many lives, Leanne Simpson, have you lived to create this most incredible collection? Astounding storytelling. Wondrous prose. Islands of Decolonial Love is a constellation of galaxies that I never want to leave. Wow!
A gifted storyteller and activist, Simpson published two books in 2013: The Gift is in the Making, a retelling of Nishnaabeg traditional teachings, and Islands of Decolonial Love, a dazzling collection of stories of beauty and resilience, fiercely illustrating how Indigenous communities continue to grow.
There’s an art to pulling off an hour-long spoken word performance, and Leanne Simpson has mastered it. In St. George the Martyr church, otherwise known as the Music Gallery, an elder gave a blessing, Peterborough singer/songwriter Nick Ferrio played two winning tunes, and then the Peterborough author, activist and academic took over with short stories from her book, Islands Of Decolonial Love, reworked as spoken word poems and songs.Engaging and conversational, she paced the set perfectly, beginning with the emotional title song that saw her joined by a four-piece band. (She and pianist/singer Tara Williamson harmonized beautifully.) The focus then moved to Simpson’s writing, sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes set to live or pre-recorded music.
Leanne Simpson is a masterful storyteller and an integral indigenous voice in modern literature. Her work over the years has eloquently and powerfully captured the unique experiences of the first peoples of Turtle Island, and Islands of Decolonial Love is no exception. With precise craft, this new collection explores the many complicated facets of the contemporary Indigenous struggle to maintain tradition in a rapidly changing environment. The use of Anishinaabe language and custom in the prose and poetry resonates loudly and invokes a great sense of pride. Meanwhile, the challenge of balancing urban and reserve life explored in the pieces is easily relatable and can provide a crucial window into the experience for non-Indigenous readers. The power of Simpson’s storytelling is already spectacular on the printed page, but her spoken word performance is stunningly monumental. The audio component of Islands of Decolonial Love is essential listening to truly experience the complexity and beauty of the many sentiments and ideas she expresses. Thanks to the work of some of the most cutting-edge musicians out there, her already crucial stories become audible masterpieces in song.
As a lover of storytelling and literature, my tendency is to have deep emotional responses to whatever I am reading. Every so often, a book comes along that, as I delve deeper into the pages, is something like peering into a body of water and seeing the wonder of stars and ancestors reflected back in glorious undulation. Forgive the flowery simile, but that is exactly how I felt as I cradled Leanne Simpson’s latest book Islands of Decolonial Love. I say cradled, because I felt something close to reverence as I was drawn into each short story and poem.
The reader is forced to bear witness to colonialism’s centuries-old damage on Canada’s First Nations people. Of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry, Simpson draws painful portraits of everyday life, many personal, which exhibit the hereditary nature of colonialism’s scars. Simpson traces these scars with a delicate finger, writing with a fragility punctuated by moments of anger and sadness. Her raw prose spills across the page in a tumble of complex thoughts and emotions.
Leanne Simpson’s lovingly drawn characters work hard to preserve their innocence in a world where irony and cynicism would be easier. They spend a lot of time travelling: on land, on the water, through space and time—in cars, trucks, fishing boats, canoes, and in their minds; between bars, forests, reservations, curling rinks, kitchens, lakes and highways. These exquisitely rendered journeys become symbols for our desire to understand and never stop learning, no matter the cost. There is heartbreak here but also many moments of fleeting grace, and a wry humour that promises to keep us safe.
Throughout the text, I kept thinking “oh, this is my favorite piece” only to turn the page and find I was mistaken – like a relationship that continues to gratify and satisfy you over time as you continue to bring attention to it, or a hike that offers views you had never before imagined, only to turn the path and be stunned yet again with a slightly greater magnitude, this text offers that sense of surprise and elation. Again, these songs and stories are not beautiful in their tragic dimension, and they are not beautiful to be beautiful, but they are beautiful because they engage the reader in the process of creating and viewing decolonial love, in imagining it, in seeing why it is needed, and in practicing it in everyday ways, even across time and space.
Blending song and story, humour and truth, This Accident of Being Lost feels so intimate and so familiar. It is the story of our sisters, cousins, and friends. I love this book. Simpson is a master lyricist, a captivating storyteller, and a true gift to use all.
I was stunned by Simpson’s generosity in sharing these experiences and inviting us to be challenged and to be lost. I welcomed having my assumptions about urban Indigenous people upended, and this is accomplished with the nourishing humour, wisdom and poetic, loose-limbed lines that have been sewn through the stories.