A History of My Brief Body
"An urgently needed, unyielding book of theoretical and intimate strength." --Kirkus Reviews, starred
The youngest ever winner of the Griffin Prize mines his personal history in a brilliant new essay collection seeking to reconcile the world he was born into with the world that could be.
For readers of Ocean Vuong and Maggie Nelson and fans of Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, A History of My Brief Body is a brave, raw, and fiercely intelligent collection of essays and vignettes on grief, colonial violence, joy, love, and queerness.
Billy-Ray Belcourt's debut memoir opens with a tender letter to his kokum and memories of his early life in the hamlet of Joussard, Alberta, and on the Driftpile First Nation. Piece by piece, Billy-Ray's writings invite us to unpack and explore the big and broken world he inhabits every day, in all its complexity and contradiction: a legacy of colonial violence and the joy that flourishes in spite of it; first loves and first loves lost; sexual exploration and intimacy; the act of writing as a survival instinct and a way to grieve. What emerges is not only a profound meditation on memory, gender, anger, shame, and ecstasy, but also the outline of a way forward. With startling honesty, and in a voice distinctly and assuredly his own, Belcourt situates his life experiences within a constellation of seminal queer texts, among which this book is sure to earn its place. Eye-opening, intensely emotional, and excessively quotable, A History of My Brief Body demonstrates over and over again the power of words to both devastate and console us.
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About the Author
Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is Canada's first First Nations Rhodes Scholar. He is the author of the poetry collections NDN Coping Mechanisms and This Wound Is a World, which was awarded the 2018 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize, the 2018 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize, and a 2018 Indigenous Voices Award. In 2018, Belcourt was named by CBC Books as one of "14 Canadian poets to watch," one of "18 emerging writers to watch," a "Writer to know," and one of "ten young Canadians to watch" by the CBC. A History of My Brief Body marks his non-fiction debut.
"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... An urgently needed, unyielding book of theoretical and intimate strength."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"At just 23 years old, Belcourt won the Griffin Prize for Poetry for his book This Wound is a World--he's also been a Rhodes scholar and, now, is publishing his first book of prose, a memoir that begins with his early life in Joussard, Alta, on the Driftpile First Nation and goes on to explore loves, sexual exploration and intimacy."
--Deborah Dundas, Toronto Star 'Twenty books you need to know about in Spring 2020'
"Wow. This book completely blew me away. I finished it and started right back in to pick at the nuanced and knotted language that emits from Belcourt. This is a phenomenal exploration of the poetics of queerdom and isolation and loneliness as philosophy, and as a collection of essays it stands alone. It exists as a statement of pure joy while at the same time delves deep into the (thoroughly complicated and corrupted) self. I can't wait to share this with everyone I know, I see Bill-Ray going far."
--Ryan Evans, WORD Bookstore
"A History of My Brief Body is a storm raging at the crossroads of post-structuralist, decolonial, and queer theory. Here, is a catalog of the abuses levied against brown and queer bodies by a monolith of past and present. Here, also, is a litany towards the unmaking of these abusive structures. Billy-Ray Belcourt commands a sophisticated range of politics and philosophy, presented here with prose as brutal in truth as it is beautiful in form. The result is a moving swirl of personal artifacts, salvaged from and brought to bear against a persistent, callous history in the pursuit of a compassionate, emancipated future."
--Connor Mason, The Book Loft
"These essays transcend genre and become something else entirely--a poetic masterpiece of self love and becoming. Billy-Ray Belcourt is one of the best we've got."
--Gary Lovely, The Book Loft
"Billy-Ray Belcourt exposes colonialism's historical and ongoing brutality against both the North American Indigenous and queer experiences. Through theory, memoir, and poetry, Belcourt notates an 'archive of injuries' to then shape joy beyond known parameters. These essays are a glorious way to be held accountable. Bill-Ray Belcourt writes for his body, his being; read for yours."
--Heidi Birchler, Moon Palace Books
"I choose not to reduce A History of My Brief Body to simply a bending of genre. Well beyond that simple idea, Billy-Ray Belcourt uses a dexterity of language and form as a container for memory and nostalgia as vehicles for truth about a still-blooming present. I love a book where a writer treats themselves and their own histories with gentleness and care, and this book is a towering achievement on that front."
--Hanif Abdurraqib, author of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Go Ahead in the Rain, and A Fortune for Your Disaster
"Billy-Ray Belcourt's moving and important book A History of My Brief Body dazzles in its quest to prove 'Joy is art is an ethics of resistance.' Not quite memoir, not quite poetry, not quite novel, this dizzying and intelligent book traces a queer NDN coming-of-age with equal parts search and insight. The book draws inspiration from the likes of Claudia Rankine, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Maggie Nelson, but Belcourt is no mimic; with A History of My Brief Body, Belcourt takes his place among these important thinkers."
--Danny Caine, Raven Book Store (Lawrence, KS)
"In A History of My Brief Body, Billy-Ray breaks apart the reflection of a life into the specificity of moments--both his own and our collective experience--and beads them into his simultaneously sharp and lush writing. Bursting with all the movements of sex, riot, and repose, this book presents us with a shock of recognition and reclamation, and we are better for it--punch drunk and aching but, oh, so much better. I'm gutted by his brilliant mind."
--Cherie Dimaline, author of Empire of Wild and The Marrow Thieves
"Settler colonialism demands we believe we'd be better off without our bodies--their needs, their feelings, their raucous disobedience and ungovernable change. I don't always know how to talk back to the violent nonsense that says, Disappear. With precision and care, Billy-Ray Belcourt presses thought against feeling to make, in each essay, an unbounded space for knowing and for staying whole."
--Elissa Washuta, author of My Body is a Book of Rules
"A History of My Brief Body puts the reader at the center of a deeply serious struggle--with language, with sexuality, with race and colonial Canada, and with love and joy and a life in art. It's about the attempt to stand in a center one has created, all while feeling the impossibility of ever doing so, and also wondering if maybe one shouldn't. This is a passionate and vital autobiography about the intellect, the culture, and the flesh, as it bears its assaults and preserves a true light."
--Sheila Heti, author of Motherhood and How Should a Person Be?
Praise for Billy-Ray Belcourt's This Wound Is a World and NDN Coping Mechanisms
Awards for This Wound is a World
Winner, Griffin Poetry Prize
Winner, Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize
Winner, Most Significant Book of Poetry in English by an Emerging Indigenous Writer, Indigenous Voices Award
Finalist, Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry
Finalist, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award
Finalist, Raymond Souster Award
A CBC Books Best Poetry Collection of the Year
"This book is a monument for the future of poetic possibility. It is rare to be able to call a book something so grand and full--and have it be utterly true. That's what This Wound Is a World affords us: myth and hyperbole pressed into a lived and realized life. A reckoning for and of the wreck--bravely buoyant, alive, and finally here."
--Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
"This Wound Is a World is a wonder. It is filled with humor, sadness, sadness about sadness, sex, profound and profane lyricism, and above all power. Billy-Ray Belcourt's voice is uniquely plangent and self-aware. The book is a world with worlds inside it. It means to de-colonize any possible reader's pre- or mis-conceptions about what it means to be alive and Indian today."
--Tommy Orange, author of There There
"The urgent, fresh voice of his generation."
--Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal