Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight: Conor Kerr

September 19, 2022

Conor Kerr

Conor Kerr’s novel Avenue of Champions has been longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Conor Kerr (he/him) is a Métis/Ukrainian educator, writer and harvester. He is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, part of the Edmonton Indigenous community and is descended from the Lac Ste. Anne and Fort des Prairies Métis communities and the Papaschase Cree Nation. His Ukrainian family settled in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan. Conor works as the Executive Director of Indigenous Education & Services at snəw’eył leləm’̓ (Langara College) and lives in Vancouver on the unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam First Nations. In 2019, Conor received The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize and in 2021, The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize. His writing has been published widely in literary magazines and anthologized in Best Canadian Stories 2020 and Best Canadian Poetry 2020. His first two books were published in 2021: the poetry collection, An Explosion of Feathers and debut novel Avenue of Champions. He has a forthcoming poetry collection tentatively titled Old Gods for publication with Nightwood Editions in 2023.

What/who inspires you to write?

Past generations of my family who never had a chance to share a story. Those whose voices continue to get lost amidst the colonial construct of Canada. The grandparents who never had a chance to pass on a story or the teachings and the kids who never got to hear their voices.

Where is your favourite place to write?

The bathtub. My ability to concentrate goes through the roof in there. I use an old iPad and a cheap bluetooth keyboard propped up on a bath board. I think it’s an effort on my part to try and minimize the distractions.

Is there an activity you do to help inspire your writing?

I walk lots. Whether that’s with my dogs in the morning and afternoons. But really it’s just an everyday thing. I’ll be driving somewhere and see something interesting, or hear a good bird call, and boom it’s on. I do find that I need to write everyday or else I feel edgy, anxious, just like when you stop smoking.

Do you have a tradition for every time you finish a book?

Nah… just get going on the next one.

What are you reading now?

Making Love with the Land by Joshua Whitehead and A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt.

What is your favorite CanLit book?

Is CanLit still a thing?

What would your job be if you weren’t an author?

Ha, my job is working in Indigenous Education in some form or other. But dream career I’d probably be an amateur ornithologist.

What is your favourite book from childhood?

I read every book of The Babysitters Club and The Screech Owls that I could get my hands on. I would crush fantasy books like The Forgotten Realms series too. Can’t recall any specific book in particular.

Is there a book that you find yourself reading over and over again?

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. That book’s got it all. I’ve read it three times in the last year. I also reread Dream Wheels by Richard Wagamese about four or five times.

How did you know you wanted to be an author?

I’ve always been a storyteller and I’ve always been writing. I used to write little (long) stories about my lego characters that my Granny kept. Some of them were pretty good too. I figured that someday I’d put something together but I never expected it to get to this level.

What inspired you to write your Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated book?

My grandma and the story of our family. I’m worried that stories will get lost. I don’t want that to happen.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

Not sure on this one… I’ll let everyone come to it in their own way. Though personally I hope people see the humour in it. If I could rewrite this unit I’d focus more on that.

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