Quebec’s only publishing house dedicated to First Nations literature is launching the province’s first literary contest for Indigenous writers, organized in partnership with the Ministry of Education.
Éditions Hannenorak aims to promote literary creation and access to publishing for both aspiring and established First Nations and Inuit authors, providing an opportunity to express their traditional cultural background while developing their imagination and exploring their inspiration.
“It’s important to know you don’t have to be a professional writer to participate,” said Hannenorak spokesperson Daniel Grenier. “The mandate is to reach as many folks as possible and make sure that new writer voices are heard. If you feel the call to write, you have until March 15 to submit on our website.”
Works of fiction in any genre up to 2,000 words are eligible in the 18-and-over adult category. The youth category is open to folktales and legends of 1,500 words maximum for 14- to 17-year-olds inclusively, which may take the form of traditional stories, personal adaptations of existing tales or entirely original creations.
A jury comprised of four established Indigenous artists will choose one winning text for each of Quebec’s 11 First Nations, with the 22 adult and youth selections to be translated into English, French and the language of each author’s nation and presented in anthologies published by Hannenorak in 2022.
“We’re really proud of the people we found for our jury, all Indigenous writers from different horizons and disciplines,” Grenier told the Nation. “We want to keep it a surprise for now – we announced the name of [acclaimed Innu poet] Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. We will post some surprises about the contest on our social media in the coming weeks.”
Participants may submit works written in English, French or an Indigenous language. As jury members obviously won’t be fluent in the region’s many Indigenous languages, Hannenorak is already working with a team of translators, who will collaborate with the vision of winning authors to ensure the publishing process meets their approval.
Submissions will be judged according to literary quality, mastery of language and originality of form, tone, structure and purpose. Adult winners will receive cash prizes of $1,000 while youth winners will receive $500 gift certificates for a digital technology store, plus their school will receive a $500 gift certificate to be redeemed at the Hannenorak bookstore.
Founded by Daniel Sioui 10 years ago in the Huron-Wendat urban reserve of Wendake, located just outside Quebec City, Hannenorak first emerged as a bookstore devoted to literature for and about the First Nations of Quebec and Canada. As it’s grown into the only Indigenous-owned publisher in Quebec, it has released an impressive array of original creations and French translations of Indigenous authors.
“I think it’s the only francophone Indigenous publishing house in the whole world,” stated Grenier. “The great thing with this contest is to reach out to people in the Mohawk, Mi’kmaq and Cree communities who have a lot of English-speaking persons. If we start receiving manuscripts and texts in English, we’ll be proud and happy to work with them.”
Hannenorak’s rise has coincided with a growing prominence of Indigenous writers in the worldwide literary scene, with authors like Tommy Orange (Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations, Oklahoma) and Cherie Dimaline (Georgian Bay Métis Nation, Ontario) earning prestigious accolades while boldly defying conventional genre constraints. Many of these novels draw on the rich tradition of Indigenous mythology as they explore contemporary realities.
“There’s a big push now for the telling of Indigenous stories,” Dimaline, whose dystopian novel The Marrow Thieves is being adapted into a television series,recently told The New York Times. “The only way I know who I am and who my community is, and the ways in which we survive and adapt, is through stories.”
Canada showcased numerous Indigenous authors as guests of honour at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany this year, including Tanya Tagaq (Iqaluktuuttiaq, Nunavut), Joshua Whitehead (Peguis First Nation, Manitoba) and Billy-Ray Belcourt (Driftpile Cree Nation, Alberta). Many of these authors are recent recipients of Indigenous Voices Awards, which were launched by the Indigenous Literary Studies Association in 2018 to celebrate and nurture the country’s diversity of writers.
Grenier’s French translations of novels by Dawn Dumont (Okanese First Nation, Saskatchewan) is expanding these perspectives in Quebec. The forthcoming multilingual anthologies featuring contest winners will be an opportunity to discover writing from other First Nations.
“In Quebec, it’s really important for the Indigenous community to get together, to go over the French-English part of the debate,” asserted Grenier. “I think the goal is to develop a network. We’re looking forward to that kind of collaboration between all the Nations on the territory.”
The publishing house plans to make the contest an annual tradition, developing partnerships with teachers and cultural organizations as it stimulates literary creation. Hannenorak hopes teachers or creative-writing workshop instructors will integrate the contest into their activities.
With more time to read, the pandemic has encouraged literary initiatives. For example, Mohawk/Tuscarora writer Janet Rogers (Six Nations, Ontario) opened her own Indigenous publishing house last spring and recently launched an online book club and interview series based around the Anishinaabe lunar calendar.
Rogers said it’s indicative of a reading public that can increasingly sustain Indigenous literature. A new generation is shining light on underrepresented perspectives and bending genres in innovative ways.
“You can take your inspiration from traditional storytelling and mix it all together in a modern novelistic way,” Grenier suggested. “In Quebec, we’re moving in that direction. It’s the perfect timing for an Indigenous venture like this because Indigenous writers are in growth – it’s a renaissance.”
To enter the literary contest, fill out the form and upload your finished masterpiece to editions.hannenorak.com/contest