News and Interviews

EMWF: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson on Festival Memories, Pre-Event Rituals, and Her New Book

By Graham Christian


While this year's physical edition of the Eden Mills Writer's Festival may be cancelled, fans and creators alike were thrilled to hear that organizers had decided to make the experience virtual, presenting a six-month-long (May to October) program of free online literary events featuring over 40 of Canada's best and brightest talents. Over the next little while, we'll be interviewing a few participating authors to get their thoughts on the festival and what fans can expect from their appearance.

In writer/musician Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's new novel, Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies (House of Anansi), the stories of seven main characters are told through the voice of Mashkawaji (they/them), frozen in ice as they recollect the past. Each character, representing a different part of the narrator's body and spirit, struggles to live within a lonely and disconnected urban-settler environment. As they navigate an ultra-modern circus of empty materialism and distraction, they discover that what remains of the natural world has already been commodified and sold.

At once a fiery condemnation of colonization and a plea for healing, Noopiming is a vivid and powerful entry into Simpson's already-impressive collection of work.

We're thrilled to speak to Leanne today, where she talks about her favourite memories from the festival, her new book, and preparing for a literary event in a post-COVID world.

Catch Leanne Betasamosake Simpson as part of the "Creative Response" panel, happening September 3 at 8pm EST. Visit the EMWF website to register.


Open Book:

Have you participated in the Eden Mills festival before? If so, do you have a favourite memory from the festival, and if not, what are you looking forward to this year?

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson:

I was at the festival in 2017. I remember being at Rivermead and listening to phenomenal performances from Jordan Abel and Gregory Scofield. Tom King was also in the audience. During my reading, at another session, Tanya Talaga was reading, and I remember thinking how wonderful it was to not be the only Native writer.


Can you tell us a little bit about what you'll be doing at the festival this year?


I will be sharing from my new novel Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies. It’s a book that explores Nishnaabeg words and stories upon stories morphing between forms. There are re-occurring characters from Islands of Decolonial Love and this Accident of Being Lost.  My sister Ansley and I have been working on a four-track EP of readings set to original music as a sister collaboration during COVID-19.


What makes a great event in your opinion? Do you have any rituals for getting ready for a public event, or any tips you'd share with emerging writers?


Well, not having to buy the book I’m reading from at the festival bookstore is a pretty nice ritual I mostly try to accomplish. In the era of pandemics, my ritual often now involves looking professional from the waist up, warning my teenagers that if they burst through my “office” door they will be in a writers’ festival, and cleaning up the part of the room that will be on camera.


Are there any other writers or events at the festival you’re excited to check out?


I’m very excited to hear Christa Couture talk about her book, How to Lose Everything. Christa is a fantastic musician who I’ve looked up to for many years now, and her book is simply breathtaking.


What are you currently working on?


I’m currently working on finishing my next record, “Theory of Ice”, which is forthcoming this winter from You’ve Changed Records, and a co-writing project with the brilliant Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives.


Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg writer, scholar, and musician, and a member of Alderville First Nation. She is the author of five books; This Accident of Being Lost (MacEwan Book of the Year, Peterborough Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Indigenous Author, finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Trillium Book Award, longlisted for CBC Canada Reads, a best book of the year by the Globe & Mail, National Post, and Quill & Quire,) As We Have Always Done, This Accident of Being Lost, Islands of Decolonial Love, The Gift Is In The Making, and Dancing on Our Turtle's Back. She has released two albums, including f(l)ight, which is a companion piece to This Accident of Being Lost.

Buy the Book

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies

You can make fun of Bougie Kwe all you want, but they are just doing what every other NDN in the city is trying to do, which is not end it all, by bringing a little bit of real right into the city. Pumpkin seeds in “repurposed” Styrofoam coffee cups. Trilliums in the garden. Fires in the backyard. Hyacinths in a plastic wading pool. Semaa at the base of street lights. Duck soup Under the Gardiner.”

Award-winning Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson returns with a bold reimagination of the novel, one that combines narrative and poetic fragments through a careful and fierce reclamation of Anishinaabe aesthetics. Mashkawaji (they/them) lies frozen in the ice, remembering a long-ago time of hopeless connection and now finding freedom and solace in isolated suspension. They introduce us to the seven main characters: Akiwenzii, the old man who represents the narrator’s will; Ninaatig, the maple tree who represents their lungs; Mindimooyenh, the old woman who represents their conscience; Sabe, the giant who represents their marrow; Adik, the caribou who represents their nervous system; Asin, the human who represents their eyes and ears; and Lucy, the human who represents their brain. Each attempts to commune with the unnatural urban-settler world, a world of SpongeBob Band-Aids, Ziploc baggies, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks, and coffee mugs emblazoned with institutional logos. And each searches out the natural world, only to discover those pockets that still exist are owned, contained, counted, and consumed. Cut off from nature, the characters are cut off from their natural selves.

Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush,” and the title is a response to English Canadian settler and author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing It in the Bush. To read Simpson’s work is an act of decolonization, degentrification, and willful resistance to the perpetuation and dissemination of centuries-old colonial myth-making. It is a lived experience. It is a breaking open of the self to a world alive with people, animals, ancestors, and spirits, who are all busy with the daily labours of healing — healing not only themselves, but their individual pieces of the network, of the web that connects them all together. Enter and be changed.