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A HISTORY OF MY BRIEF BODY by Billy-Ray Belcourt Kirkus Star


by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Pub Date: July 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-937512-93-4
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

A genre-bending memoir in essays from Canada’s first First Nations Rhodes Scholar.

In sharp pieces infused with a yearning for decolonized love and freedom, Belcourt, of the Driftpile Cree Nation, ably balances poetic, philosophical, and political insights throughout this unique book. The author situates his reflections on love, longing, and vulnerability amid a political reality of trauma, violence, and oppression “on the shores of what is now improperly called Canada.” More than a chronological life history, these elegantly crafted essays on his personal experience as an NDN boy explore themes of queer identity, sexuality, and love; family bonds that defy colonialist brutality; and the tension of living and writing on the edges of “killability” and freedom. Belcourt confronts histories of marginalization as well as urgent present-day issues, including the racialized coding and “ontological shaming” that infect online dating apps and what the author sees as a lack of unbiased medical care. “Hospitals have always been enemy territory,” writes the author. “My body, too brown to be innocent, enflames the nurses’ racialized curiosities. For them, there’s always the possibility that my pain is illusory, dreamt up in order to get my next fix.” Stretching memoir beyond personal memory, Belcourt deftly carves out a space where joy and love become vital acts of resistance, and he incisively considers how the state-sanctioned “suppres[sion] of NDN vitality” and resulting “existential hunger” fit within a broader construct of colonialism. Ultimately, Belcourt delivers an inspired call for “a radical remaking of the world,” at once accomplished, expansive, even vulnerable—but never weak. “In the face of antagonistic relation to the past,” he writes in conclusion, “let us start anew in the haven of a world in the image of our radical art.” At the nexus of critical race and queer thought, this should become a timeless interdisciplinary resource for students, educators, and social justice activists.

An urgently needed, unyielding book of theoretical and intimate strength.