Drew Hayden Taylor explores ‘native humour’

First Nations author and playwright speaks at Mt. A.

Mount Allison’s Centre for Canadian Studies welcomed Canadian author and playwright Drew Hayden Taylor last Tuesday to discuss the role of humour in native literature and culture. In addition to reading selections from some of his most recent publications, Hayden Taylor shared his experiences with native theatre and succeeded in educating and entertaining a host of students and faculty with the help of his comfortable personality and unique sense of humour.

Originally from the Curve Lake First Nation in southeastern Ontario, Hayden Taylor has traversed nearly every realm of literature imaginable, including plays, short stories, novels, film and television scripts, essays, and journalism. Many of his works have received critical acclaim in Canada and around the globe, the most recent of which being a nomination for the Governor General’s Award in fiction for his 2010 novel Motorcycles & Sweetgrass. He has worked as the artistic director for Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto, and is currently the writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario.

The most prominent focus in Hayden Taylor’s writing is the concept of cultural humour in the context of First Nations peoples in Canada. Because he is half Ojibway and half Caucasian, Hayden Taylor playfully identifies as an “occasion,” and has explored his own multi-racial heritage in his four-part essay collection series entitled Funny, You Don’t Look like One. Throughout his career, he has expertly blended his own sense of humour and likeable personality with sobering issues of inequality and misrepresentation that are commonly faced by First Nations peoples, his ultimate mission being to “explore, celebrate, and deconstruct the world of native humour.”

For Hayden Taylor, humour is a source of both personal and cultural identity. “There’s no one native sense of humour,” he said, noting that each individual First Nations community pokes fun at different groups in different ways. He also described humour as “the WD-40 of healing,” and aims to introduce a more positive and personal representation of Canadian First Nations to the literary sphere by bringing their jokes and stories to life in his books and on the stage.

Hayden Taylor identifies as a “contemporary storyteller,” and believes that his writing talents have arisen from both his upbringing and the cultural context that helped foster an affinity for constructing narratives.

“I grew up in an environment where we had storytelling, and I knew how to tell a story through dialogue,” he said, noting that drama and theatre can often serve as a mediator between oral and written culture. “For me it was a logical progression: I’ve gone from telling stories around the campfire, to telling stories on the stage, on the screen, and on the page.”

After proudly attending nearly every individual production of his plays, Hayden Taylor feels that an advantage of theatre is the community of actors, producers, and directors that interpret the original work and contribute new elements to its conceptualization. “It’s a collaborative effort,” he explained, recalling specific instances wherein productions captured essential aspects of his plays that weren’t even on the page. “[Often] other people brought something to it that made it interesting and new and fun.”

Hayden Taylor is looking forward to publishing his twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth books this coming March and April, including the newest instalment of his Funny, You Don’t Look Like One essay series, and God and the Indian, a play that explores and exposes the affects of Canadian residential schools.

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