‘You just write what moves you’
Award-winning author Ivan Coyote speaks at Mount Royal University
People packed into a crowded Moot Court to hear writer Ivan Coyote tell stories on Jan. 26. Coyote had been on the Mount Royal University campus for most of the prior week, speaking to classes and talking to students. Her Thursday-night performance still brought in a large crowd — students and faculty alike — to listen to excerpts from her award-winning stories.
Born and raised in what she calls a “massive Irish-Catholic family” in Whitehorse, YK, much of Coyote’s writing features her family members, who are obviously an inspiration to her work — and after a quick two-hour talk, Coyote managed to make these people as real and meaningful to the audience as they are to her.
She opened with a reading from a collection of what she calls Yukon Love Stories, followed with another entitled Objects in Mirror Are Queerer Than They Appear. The magic of storytelling silenced the room and drew the audience into her world — vivid and captivating — sharing in memories, drawing tears and plenty of laughs.
“They don’t really get what I do for a living. They call it my ‘art project,’” Coyote jokes of her large family.
Some of her stories feature her father and stepmother, her grandmothers and uncles, as well as different people she has met, ranging from an old lady on an airplane to her barber. Coyote travels all across North America giving talks at universities as well as junior high and high schools on anti-bullying.
Coyote’s art crosses a number of different mediums. She is an award-winning author of six collections of short stories, one novel, three spoken word albums and four short films.
However, it is obvious that her gift of storytelling is best done through her honest and enthralling use of spoken words. She has the remarkable ability to silence an entire room with her words and take the audience to a faraway place. When she stops speaking, the audience comes back, blinking into reality as if from a trance.
More than just entrancing, Coyote is charismatic and funny, with the wonderful ability to laugh at her own experiences as she recalls playing hockey as a child and wondering when her family first thought she might be gay. She tells of an older man in town calling her mother and saying, “if she didn’t get me out of the hockey gear and straight into the kitchen I’d become a lesbian.”
It was evident within a few minutes that Coyote’s gift of storytelling went deeper than just the way she used language. Instead, it’s her ability to capture moments in history and release them like a magician, casting a spell on listeners. She emphasizes the importance of the story — everyone’s story — ending the night with some great parting words: “You don’t decide – you just write what moves you.”