A History of My Brief Body
* A Best Book of 2020 --Kirkus Reviews, Book Riot, CBC, Globe and Mail, Largehearted Boy.
Stunning... Happiness, this beautiful book says, is the ultimate act of resistance. --Michelle Hart, O, The Oprah Magazine
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 (he/him) is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. His debut book of poems, This Wound is a World, won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize and the 2018 Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize, and was named the Most Significant Book of Poetry in English by an Emerging Indigenous Writer at the 2018 Indigenous Voices Award. It was also a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and the Raymond Souster Award. It was named by CBC Books as one of the best Canadian poetry collections of the year. Billy-Ray is a Ph.D. student and a 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. He is also a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and holds a Master's degree in Women's Studies from Wadham College at the University of Oxford.
"In his endeavor to honor the reality of Indigenous pain while also remaining steadfastly committed to queer Indigenous joy and utopic futures, Billy-Ray Belcourt has written an incomparable book full of emotion, analysis and poetic beauty."
--Kai Minosh Pyle, Star Tribune
"A rallying cry for freedom. The ongoingness of resilience demands a manifesto, and here it is: 'Joy is art is an ethics of Resistance.'"
--Kristen Millares Young, The Washington Post
"A History of My Brief Body is a breathtaking literary rebellion against the brutalization and simplification of NDN existence, establishing as resistance joy in creativity and its ability to invent worlds."
--Samantha Zaboski, Shelf Awareness, starred review
"In a novelistic series of queer essays and texts, Billy-Ray Belcourt reflects on the complexities of gender, sexuality and colonialism as someone who identifies as an NDN queer person. Coming to understand his body, queerness and Indigenous heritage, the 24-year-old award-winning poet examines past anger, shame and ecstasy, while outlining a way forward."
--Sarah Taher, Xtra
One of "July's Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books"
--Leo Rachman, Lambda Literary
"I truly can't stop thinking about this work because it demands more from me as a reader and an artist. It is thunderous in the way that great art cracks open your previously held notions of what was possible."
--Sacha Vega, Cha Cha Reader
"Sometimes, a book comes along, and it commands that you dig into it with a pencil, highlighter, or post-its. You're hungry to eat it up, and your brain enjoys the meal so much that it's like the best food coma you've ever had. This is Billy-Ray Belcourt's A History of My Brief Body... I was taken at every turn, trusting Belcourt to live up to what I knew would be accomplished just from having read the first page, and I was not let down. A remarkable feat, and it will be a long-time favorite."
--Margy, Loganberry Books Blog
"[Belcourt's] deft use of language to render queerness, indigeneity, and the corporeal into ravishing works of poetic art translates beautifully into nonfiction prose. This essay collection is slim but immersive, a work of joy and reckoning, and of imagining a better world."
--Sarah Neilson, LitHub
"With keen sensibility and precision, Belcourt delivers a complex meditation on love, NDN queer identity, sexuality, art and joy amid the compounding brutalities of settler colonialism. This is a radiant collection."
--Ruth Lefaive, The Rumpus
"What Belcourt does transcends genre. The celebrated author is at once deliberate and playful with his use of language. He uses it to engage deeply with the body, its pain and joy and needs, and to push through the thickets of fighting against a settler colonialism that constantly tries to break bodies down from without and within. Collecting fragments of imagery, the scholarly and poetic work of others, and snares of love and capitalism, Belcourt has crafted an outstanding missive."
--Sarah Neilson, them.us
"[Belcourt's] writing in this stellar collection is a tool of resistance through which he imbibes lost languages and false histories, digests and absorbs them that he might destroy the systems of oppression exercised over NDNs (his term), a struggle that ultimately helps create joy, love, and hope... an incredible read."
--Andrew T. Powers, American Library Association's Rainbow Round Table
"In this stunning essay-collection-cum-prose-poem-cycle, Belcourt meditates on the difficulty and necessity of finding joy as a queer NDN in a country that denies that joy all too often. Out of the 'ruins of the museum of political depression' springs a 'tomorrow free of the rhetorical trickery of colonizers everywhere.' Happiness, this beautiful book says, is the ultimate act of resistance."
--Michelle Hart, O, The Oprah Magazine
"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
"The poetic and probing essay collection shuttles between personal reflection, critical race theory, and commentary on poetics, colonialism, queerness, loneliness, and utopia."
--Dana Isokawa, Poets & Writers
"A History of My Brief Body knocked me on my ass. Billy-Ray Belcourt, a member of the Driftpile Cree Nation and Canada's first Rhodes Scholar, explores the complexities of gender, sexuality, and colonialism in a short, poetic memoir. These essays transcend genre and become something else entirely -- a reliquary of self-love and becoming."
--BuzzFeed "38 Great Books To Read This Summer, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers"; Gary Lovely, marketing manager of The Book Loft
"When I cracked open A History of My Brief Body, I wasn't intending on spending the night, but with each essay, I found myself drawn further into this bold and beautiful declaration of the self. Liberating and fortifying. I know I'll be returning to this book for years to come."
--Luis Correa, Avid Bookshop
"Deeply personal and raw, Belcourt flays himself wide open in a way that is simultaneously delicate and jarring. And while his history may be brief due to his limited years on earth, his writing overflows with insight and conviction. There is an alluring complexity to the language and style of his writing, as well as the subject matter, which will leave the reader looking forward to more from Belcourt's hand in the future."
--Beth Mowbray, The Nerd Daily
"Filled with beauty, vitality, and grief, and includes pieces that are infused with reflections on race and sexuality, love and loneliness, a desire for decolonial freedom, and refusal of erasure."
--Jennifer McDermid, Megaphone Magazine
"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'
"I'll pretty much read anything from Columbus-based publisher, Two Dollar Radio, and A History of My Brief Body is no exception... a début, this essay collection focuses on the author's personal history."
--Samantha Evans, CityBeat, "27 Hot Summer Reading Recommendations from Cincinnati Librarians and Booksellers"
"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
"A History of My Brief Body is an NDN love story that will stop you in your tracks. I'm struck by the gentleness in Belcourt's words, his ability to move across scales, and the complexity of his thought. He's achieved something here that we've collectively been trying to achieve for a long time, and it makes me feel proud."
--Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of This Accident of Being Lost
"Billy-Ray Belcourt is proving himself to be a literary genius. His poetry and prose are tender and brutal and brilliant. This memoir recounts the intimate and sexual history of a young Indigenous poet who studies the reserve and the city. As with the writing of Maggie Nelson, I was astounded at both Belcourt's scholarship and his acute reflections on the human condition. The book also provides indispensable insight into the political consciousness of Indigenous peoples in Canada."
--Heather O'Neill, author of The Lonely Hearts Hotel
"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