“My fate is to tell a story that’s been erased from the history books,” writes Terese Marie Mailhot in an essay for Global Citizen, an online social change platform.
With the upcoming release of her memoir, “Heart Berries,” it seems the Seabird Island woman is doing exactly that. Still a month away from its Canadian release date, Mailhot’s novel is already making waves in the literary world and receiving international recognition.
Mailhot has been writing for a long time. Her numerous essays for Indian Country Media Network have striking titles, such as “White Tears Taste Like Champagne” and “Self-Help isn’t Enough for Native Women.”
Her work has been featured in The Rumpus, Carve Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, Feminist Wire, Huffington Post Canada and elsewhere. Her essay “I Know I’ll Go” was listed as notable in Best American Essays 2016.
And now Mailhot’s new book has landed on lists such as CBC’s “21 works of Canadian nonfiction to watch for in the first half of 2018” and has garnered praise-filled reviews from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, among others.
Set mostly on the Seabird Island Reservation where Mailhot grew up, “Heart Berries” has been hailed an astounding and powerful memoir that speaks of motherhood, loss, poverty, abuse, suffering and survival.
Mailhot tells her story, and also writes of family members who survived Canada’s residential school system – where Indigenous children were ripped from their families, homes and culture in an effort to assimilate the children to western ways of living.
Seabird Island Community School educator Dianna Kay has known Mailhot since she was little and said she couldn’t be more proud of the way her friend has written her truth.
“For a lot of us, we hold our truths down within ourselves without being able to express [them] and I’m so proud she found a way or a method to do that,” Kay said. “I’m absolutely so proud of her.”
Kay said Mailhot is not only a talented writer, but an example of strength in the face of adversity.
“She’s a true testament of being able to work through the situations that Indigenous people – and it’s not just her, all of us have to endure…nothing was given to her. She worked hard for everything she has,” Kay said. “She didn’t give up. She found a way to be successful to be what she wanted to be – a writer.”
A recent review of “Heart Berries” from the New York Times writes that Mailhot’s book shatters a pattern of silence, letting the phantoms of her and her family’s past speak through her words.
“ ‘Heart Berries’ has a mixture of vulnerability and rage, sexual yearning and artistic ambition, swagger and self-mockery…,”’ wrote New York Times reviewer Parul Sehgal.
And the New York Times isn’t the only literary reviewer giving “Heart Berries” high praise.
The Purdue Review covered Mailhot’s book launch on their West Lafayette, Indiana school campus, writing that “Mailhot expresses her life in language that impresses the importance of her story, showing the unique lens through which she has experienced life.”
Mailhot’s book is already held in high esteem from early readers too. A quick Google search shows endless five-star ratings with comments about the brilliant, raw truthfulness that permeates Mailhot’s poetic book of essays.
Kay said Mailhot’s writing is devoid of idealism.
“[The book] is not lavish. She doesn’t paint a picturesque world of living in our community,” Kay said. “You look at our community and it’s beautiful – I love our community to bits – but we still have broken hearts.
“She was able to rise amongst all that,” she added. “This is the start of the rest of her career and the rest of her life.”
With promotional stops in Toronto and Vancouver next month, one of the most profound visits on her tour may be March 13, when Mailhot returns to Seabird Island for an honouring ceremony and book launch.
At Lalme ‘Iwesawtexw (Seabird Island Community) 2821 Chowat Rd. in Agassiz, the public can meet Mailhot, hear her read from “Heart Berries” and ask her questions. The honouring ceremony is from 10 a.m. to noon.
“Tea with Terese” will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. Copies of the book will be available for purchase, with portions of the proceeds going back into the Seabird Island community.
“Heart Berries” will be officially released in early March and will be available on Amazon and in book stores.