Alberta authors chosen for Audible Indigenous Writers' Circle

Jessie Conrad, left, a member of Yellowknives Dene First Nation who now lives in Edmonton, was paired with author Richard Van Camp, right, as part of the Audible Indigenous Writers' Circle.  (Jessie Conrad, William Au - image credit)
Jessie Conrad, left, a member of Yellowknives Dene First Nation who now lives in Edmonton, was paired with author Richard Van Camp, right, as part of the Audible Indigenous Writers' Circle. (Jessie Conrad, William Au - image credit)

Two Alberta women hope a mentorship program for emerging Indigenous writers, run by book-streaming company Audible, will help them publish their first books.

Jessie Conrad and Shelley Willier are among 21 authors from across Canada who were paired with established Indigenous writers as part of the Audible Indigenous Writers' Circle.

Conrad, who lives in Edmonton and is a member of Yellowknives Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories, is matched with prolific author and storyteller Richard Van Camp.

She said the pairing is encouraging her to honour her authenticity as a writer. In particular, she's working with Van Camp on character development, using what she called a "strength-based approach."

"A strength-based approach is so important for Indigenous writers," Conrad told CBC Radio Active host Jessica Ng.

"It allows us to acknowledge who we were, prior to colonialism, and who we are right now and in the future, not how we were abused or marginalized or why."

Conrad's current novel-in-progress, Fish Bait, features an orphaned Dene girl as the protagonist. Instead of falling through the cracks, the girl takes control and steps into her own power as she becomes a woman, Conrad said.

Farah Nosh, Shelley Willier
Farah Nosh, Shelley Willier

Willier is from Sucker Creek First Nation, near Slave Lake.

She was paired with award-winning journalist Angela Sterritt, who works for CBC in Vancouver.

In her book, Willier tells the story of her father, a residential school survivor. He was sent to St. Bruno Indian Residential School, on the shores of Lesser Slave Lake, when he was seven years old.

"Through his stories, I have learned lessons of my own, and I want to give readers hope and inspiration for resilience," Willier said.

She said the pairing with Sterritt is "priceless," since Sterritt just completed her own forthcoming memoir, Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls.

"She's gone through the publishing process, so she is able to speak with me and guide me through the process," Willier said.

Willier said the Audible program will help her bring her memoir to a literary agent later this month and, hopefully, find a publisher.

Conrad said her novel draft will be complete next year.

This round of the Audible Indigenous Writers' Circle ends in December.

The company says the writers' circle is part of its overall "mission to elevate the voices of Indigenous peoples in Canada, in an effort to enhance equity and support reconciliation."