Alicia Elliott’s presence seems to be everywhere in current Indigenous literature. Readers and writers alike have been moved by the ways Elliott explores her subjects.
The Tuscarora writer lives in Brantford, Ontario and recently won the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award, providing her with a $10,000 cash prize and the mentorship of author Tanya Talaga, who also won an RBC Taylor Prize for “Seven Fallen Feathers.”
What Are You Working on Now?
I’m currently waiting for edits for my book of essays, “A Mind Spread Out On The Ground,” which is scheduled to come out in late March next year. While I’m waiting for that, I’m working in my role as the Creative Nonfiction Editor at The Fiddlehead to get their fall issue ready.
I want to do my part to create a supportive, responsible community of writers that is welcoming, not exclusionary. And I want those who are doing good work to get an audience.
What Topics or Themes Do You Most Feel Drawn To?
I’m generally a very curious person, so I’m constantly looking for new ways to think through ideas.
I do feel a very strong responsibility to my community in my writing, so I want to tell stories that honour the complexities of Haudenosaunee people and philosophies. It’s important to me to carry that responsibility in a good way. But that’s not all that I write about. Sometimes you just want to write about make-up or professional wrestling, you know?
What Challenges Have You Faced as an Emerging Writer?
Not getting into any of the three MFA programs I applied to out of my undergrad really hurt my ego for a long time. I wasn’t sure where to go or how to build a career without that degree and the connections a program like that would offer. I basically just had to send out my work and persevere through the rejections.
Being an Indigenous writer, I’ve always had to wonder whether my rejections are because the writing isn’t where it should be yet, or if the person who’s reading it doesn’t like the way I’ve written about Indigenous life.
Unfortunately, I’ve had editors who have made racist assumptions about my work, and whom I’ve had to very carefully, but firmly correct. Those are hard conversations to have because there’s a power imbalance.
But so far I’ve been lucky in that all the editors I’ve worked with have been supportive, especially once I’ve explained my rationale.
Being an Indigenous writer, I've always had to wonder whether my rejections are because the writing isn't where it should be yet, or if the person who's reading it doesn't like the way I've written about Indigenous life.
You Often Use Social Media to Support or Promote Other Writers. Why Is That Important to You?
Cherie Dimaline was a mentor to me and some other Indigenous writers back in 2015, and I’ll never forget what she told me: When you get pulled up with one hand, you always hold one hand behind you so you can pull up others, too. I’ll probably be quoting that my entire life because it so succinctly sums up my mentality.
I think supporting and promoting other writers is part of my responsibility as a writer. I want to do my part to create a supportive, responsible community of writers that is welcoming, not exclusionary. And I want those who are doing good work to get an audience.
Which Young Emerging Indigenous Writers Should Everyone Be Reading?
I would suggest Joshua Whitehead’s “full metal indigiqueer” and “Jonny Appleseed,” Billy-Ray Belcourt’s “This Wound Is A World,” Tenille Campbell’s “Indian Love Poems, “Carleigh Baker’s “Bad Endings” and Terese Mailhot’s “Heart Berries.”
But the list of great emerging Indigenous writers goes on and on. All of them deserve a wide readership. I honestly think that there’s a bit of an Indigenous renaissance happening right now.
I can’t wait for Waubgeshig Rice’s new book “Moon of the Crusted Snow.” I’ve been looking forward to Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Trail of Lightning” series. We’re very lucky to be able to witness this particular literary moment.
What Does Receiving the RBC Taylor Emerging Writers Award Mean to You?
This award means more than I can possibly put into words, but since the question requires exactly that … it means that I have the space and time to work on projects that mean a lot to me without having to necessarily worry about burying myself in freelance work to make rent.
It means that I have the opportunity to develop a relationship with Tanya Talaga, a writer I deeply admire and respect, and I get the opportunity to pick her brain.
It’s an incredible milestone in my career, and I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life.
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