Writer in Residence

Why I Write About Difficult Topics

By Suzanne Methot

I believe in my readers: their vulnerabilities, their resiliencies, their self-awareness, their goals and aspirations, and their ability to change. That’s why I write about difficult topics.

More than a few readers have told me that my 2019 book (Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing) is a hard read. They say they have to put the book down sometimes and take a break. It’s never meant as a criticism, and I don’t take it as one. I always smile when they add, “Is it okay to say I enjoyed your book?” Because yes: if a book is written well, then it’s going to be an enjoyable read. But intergenerational trauma – yep, that’s a hard topic.

I write about difficult topics because I want my readers to be challenged. Discomfort is an important part of art. We grow when we’re presented with something that makes us vibrate at a different frequency; makes us shake our heads in wonder, realization, and recognition because everything we thought we knew now seems incomplete. So yes, please put down my book and live in that discomfort for a while. We need to confront the things we can’t or don’t want to see if we want to grow. Art has saved me. Art has changed me. I want to create that space for my readers.

I write about difficult topics because Indigenous trauma still exists. Colonization is ongoing, and all the happy media stories about this program and that project – although wonderful and inspiring (there is a lot of healing work happening in Indigenous communities) – does not erase the fact that families and communities have been broken apart by colonial policies. The effects of that trauma are still being felt at every level of Indigenous and Canadian society. Sometimes writers write what they want the world to be. I write the world as I see it, so that survivors can recognize themselves and helpers can consider what they’re not being taught in their professional certification programs. Undoing generations of harm will take generations of healing work. I write about the difficult present so we know exactly what’s at stake.

When I adapted Legacy into my new YA book, Killing the Wittigo: Indigenous Culture-Based Approaches to Waking Up, Taking Action, and Doing the Work of Healing, I decided to include trigger warnings on a few pages. Young people live in a world that’s becoming increasingly unsafe (I’m thinking here of the climate emergency, lack of affordable housing, online bullying, sextortion, lack of adult mentors, rising levels of distress and governments that refuse to invest in mental health services or culturally appropriate social services, but you can add whatever I’ve missed). Creating safety is about creating opportunities for choice and control. The discomfort is still there – because it has to be, to create change – but in this book, young readers are asked for their consent before they feel the feels. Legacy is a hard read, but adults know what their limits are and when to take a break. I didn’t want Wittigo to add to a young person’s distress.

I write about difficult topics because I received a message from a colleague the other day. She’s brilliant, she’s contributing, she’s struggling, and she’s doing her healing work – so she’s normal, in other words – and she told me she can’t blurb my new book because she lost her brother in April and she’s “trying to get my daughter to want to live.” Indigenous people are in a race against a killer that wants to destroy us. Colonialism is ongoing. I write to change the world.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Suzanne Methot is the author of Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing. She has worked in adult literacy and skills-training, as a museum educator, and as a teacher, creating a classroom program for Indigenous students experiencing intergenerational trauma. Born in Vancouver and raised in Peace River, Alberta, Suzanne is Nehiyaw of mixed Indigenous and European heritage. She lives on Gabriola Island, B.C., on the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw Nation.