Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight: Katherena Vermette

September 29, 2021

Katherena Vermette’s novel, The Strangers has been longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Katherena Vermette (she/her) is a Red River Métis (Michif) writer from Treaty 1 territory, the heart of the Métis nation—Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her first book, North End Love Songs, won the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Her first novel, The Break, was a national bestseller and won several 2017 awards, including the Amazon First Novel Award, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, and McNally Robinson Book of the Year. She lives with her family in a cranky old house within skipping distance of the temperamental Red River. The Strangers is her second novel.

What/who inspires you to write?

My family, my friends, my community. I am so lucky to be surrounded by amazing people who inspire me everyday.

Do you have a favourite passage/quote from a book?

I didn’t watch it, but just read Michaela Coel’s speech from the Emmys and it’s my new favourite:

“Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you. In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success—do not be afraid to disappear. From it. From us. For a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.” – Michaela Coel 2021

Love that. I May Destroy You is superb, Coel is amazing and I can’t wait for her to take over the world.

Where is your favourite place to write?

My favourite writing place right now is my sunroom. True to its name, it is full of light. The only activity I need is silence, getting everyone out of the house and just being quiet awhile. Then all the friends that live in my head start to talk.

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

Finish reading? I like to savour things – books, shows, meals – so the last few bites are always taken slow. If I am nearing the end of a book, I usually stop a lot to stretch it out if it can. And I never like to finish things right before I am supposed to go to bed, because then I can’t sleep because I am thinking about it all over and over.

What are you reading now?

Honestly I am all over the place with my reading. I try to read what’s coming out and what’s hot at the moment, but I am always so far behind. In part because I keep re-reading old favourites. I just finished the Winnipeg classic, Under the Ribs of Death and got Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn because I only ever had it out of the library and now I want to re-read it and own it.

What is your favorite CanLit book?

Favourite book of all time – In Search of April Raintree by Beatric Culleton Mosionier. Favourite book of this past year – So hard to pick but right at this moment I will say Ghost Lake by Nathan Niigaan Noodin Alder.

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

If I wasn’t an author full time, I’d be a high school English teacher. Hopefully, making trouble with my book selections and generally encouraging rebellious behaviour. I’d still be a writer though. Can’t imagine not doing that. Even if I didn’t publish, I’d still write.

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

I re-read everything. Besides April Raintree, which I read as a teenager, Jane Austen and the Brontë’s had a big impact on me. As a kids I read the Little House series over and over. Problematic – for sure! Recommended for kids nowadays – not without a HUGE disclaimer and ongoing conversation, but I learned a lot from those guys.

How did you know you wanted to be an author?

Reading these books made me want to be a writer. Hanging out in St John’s Library and smelling the books made me want to be a writer. Getting lost in stories and wanting to do nothing else for years, and that moment I finally saw myself in a book – that was it! I was a goner.

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

I wanted to write about family. Complicated loving caring hating raging family.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

I never prescribe a lesson or mandate for my work. For one, I don’t want to, and for two, there’s no point. People read themselves in books. We all do. More than an author’s intention anyway.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn for the latest Scotiabank Giller Prize news, including when the 2021 shortlist is announced on October 5, 2021.