news-Sturges Young Center for the Arts-author Angeline Boulley-Firekeeper’s Daughter
An Evening with Author Angeline Boulley did not disappoint Wednesday at the Sturges-Young Center for the Arts.
Audiences gathered in a packed SYA ballroom for the chance to hear the author talk about her book, “Firekeeper’s Daughter.”
“Firekeeper’s Daughter” tells the story of biracial, unregistered tribal member and product of scandal, Daunis Fontaine, who never really fit in, either in his hometown or on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. . When his family is struck by tragedy, Daunis puts his dreams on hold to take care of his fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit to her brother’s hockey team.
After Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that pushes her into a criminal investigation, she agrees to go undercover. But the deceptions – and the deaths – just keep piling up and soon the threat hits too close to home. How far will she go to protect her community if it means tearing apart the only world she’s ever known?
The Evening with Boulley began with an introduction to the author by SYA Executive Director Sheila Bolda. She listed the many accolades that have been bestowed on Boulley’s work, including topping the New York Times bestseller list and remaining on that list for weeks.
After listing the many awards for “Firekeeper’s Daughter” (too many to list here), Bolda explained that in the Ojibwe language, one wouldn’t say, “How are you?” but “How does your star shine?”
“To say that over the past year this first-time author’s star has shone incredibly would be a huge understatement,” Bolda said of Boulley.
Boulley, registered member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Indians and a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, began her presentation with a reading from “Firekeeper’s Daughter.”
The floor was then opened to questions and answers, both from Bolda and from members of the public. Boulley said she hoped audience members had lots of questions, as it was her favorite part of the evening. They did it.
Among the highlights, Boulley spoke of the whirlwind that has ensued since the publication of his book. She spoke about her father’s role as a firefighter and his time as a former director of the Office of Indian Education at the US Department of Education.
Boulley opened up about the inspiration for “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” which she called a “weird” story. During Boulley’s high school years, a friend from another school had a guy in mind she thought Boulley should meet. This piqued Boulley’s interest, but the friend later said she didn’t think the boy was her type after all. He didn’t play sports and he hung out with the wrong clientele. Boulley never met him. Then, before graduation, at an assembly, the boy announced he had been an undercover cop, Boulley said.
“I remember thinking, what if we had met,” said. “What if we had met and loved each other? What if he needed my help? This idea that has been with me for over 37 years now was: Why would a secret drug investigation need the help of an ordinary 18-year-old Ojibwe girl? Really, that spark of that idea has stayed with me all this time.
The “what ifs” followed. What if it was an anti-drug investigation on federal territory? What if it was on an Indian reservation? What if the drug had a recipe that could be manipulated and if that manipulation was something with a cultural component? What if this 18-year-old girl was excellent in chemistry but also knew plants as traditional medicines and knew her culture and language? What if she was connected to everyone and everything in the community?
She would be the perfect person to help with the investigation, Boulley said. She understood how it would all be and started writing.
Boulley said she wrote “Firekeeper’s Daughter” for 10 years. His advice to budding writers? She told writers that you can’t edit a blank page. Her first draft of her book was horrible, she says. But she was brutally honest with herself about what worked and what didn’t. She also read her favorite books through the eyes of writers.
As for the publishing process? Boulley said she tweeted a pitch for her book during a Twitter pitch event. She had 60 agents like her tweet, which was an invitation to send in the front pages. She also participated in a mentorship that allowed an author to read her manuscript and suggest her agent, who was the agent Boulley ended up with.
How did her tribal community receive the novel? Boulley said he was extremely well received. She changed her tribe’s name in the book and romanticized it, which was the biggest decision she could have made, she said.
Looking for the novel? Boulley said she had sources in a retired FBI agent and a retired federal prosecutor. One of the most interesting aspects of his research? Boulley learned to make crystal meth. Boulley also told the humorous story of waiting in the parking lot for his son’s hockey practice to end. She thought, would a body fit in the trunk of this car?
“So I drove my car to the edge of the parking lot and opened the trunk and climbed inside,” she said. “I was like, would it work if it was like this or that. Then the tribal police came and they said, is everything okay? I said, I’m a writer. It’s from the research. ”
After further questions and answers, there was a signing session. Boulley had also spoken at a writing class at Sturgis High School prior to the event.