Off the Page: Julian Brave NoiseCat

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Julian Brave NoiseCat. Photo: Xidi Ma.

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners and finalists. We recently spoke with writer Julian Brave NoiseCat, finalist for the NMA 2018 Best New Magazine Writer for his feature “The Tribal Canoe Journey.

A recipient of the 2017 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship, Julian is a correspondent at Real America with Jorge Ramos, contributing editor for Canadian Geographic and a freelance writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, The Paris Review and many other publications. He is a proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen and a descendant of the Lil’Wat Nation of Mount Currie.

Your article on the Tribal Canoe Journey mentions traditional oral histories. You make an interesting comment of how calling these stories legends or fables “infantilizes” them. Do you think this undermines the culture?

The direct answer is I think that it can. Words matter, and the language we use to describe them affects the way we think about them. I’d like to view all sorts of stories, whether they be more traditional origin stories or masterful multi-volume novels, as all part of an interrelated practice of storytelling.

How important do you consider these traditional stories to Indigenous culture, in terms of understanding the culture and continuing it?

I think they’re obviously important, but so are new writers and novels. For example, Tommy Orange’s book There There. They’re all very important.

The story of the first symbolic canoe expo, coming out of a centennial celebration, and your description of it as “Thanksgiving in reverse” was also interesting. Canada recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, and there was much discussion in the Indigenous community about what that meant in their history. Do you think these moments in time, where there is a heightened lens on Indigenous issues,  could be turned around to an advantage, like the examples in your article?

Yes. I think there’s a way of seeing these events as somewhat one-sided, but I think it’s often more complicated than that. If we look back at Canada 150, Canada’s celebration of its 150 years was, in comparison to other centennial celebrations in Canada, quite cautious and tepid. At the same time, Indigenous protests of and counter-narrative to Canada 150 was really powerful.

I do think that is ultimately what can happen, especially when we have such a strong Indigenous movement like we do today.

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Photo: Julian Brave NoiseCat

Your article “The Rhodes scholarship wasn’t designed for my people — that’s why I had to win,” really captured the kind of conversations Indigenous men and women experience all the time. Questions about taxes, land-ownership, and typical family structures tend to take focus when someone finds out you’re Native.

How have you learned to respond to? Your article features some inner monologue about how you would have liked to respond, but didn’t. Have these gotten any closer with experience?

I would say that it’s always sort of a process, knowing that is the climate and structure we are up against, but also becoming increasingly confident and comfortable in our own skin. And believing that despite forces aligned against us, we can come into these spaces and succeed. In the world of journalism, we can show up at newspapers and magazines, and write stuff just as good or maybe even better than our peers. We can go into the halls of power and political situations, into jobs and corporations, and do a kick ass job.

In that one instance, it was quite a challenging experience for me, even when I reflect back on it. But ultimately it also did prepare me for the next interview where that happens, the next situation where my race leads people to challenge me, question me, or undermine me in particular ways.

What was it like interviewing Connie Walker, who’s such a prominent Indigenous journalist, as a young Indigenous journalist yourself?

I think what’s really cool about journalism is that you get to talk to all these awesome people. Connie Walker was an awesome person to talk to, but there’s also been many other cool Native and non-Native people I’ve had the opportunity to talk to. That’s what I find really cool about journalism. That opportunity not only just to write the story, but to talk to people who are experts, who have lived the experience you are trying to relate to your readers.

In your interview, she mentions how she is almost now exclusively reporting on Indigenous issues, where ten years ago there was little to no interest. Do you agree it’s an opportune time for young Indigenous writers to have their voices heard?

Absolutely. [In that interview] we talked a lot about digital technology. There’s a lot more opportunity for entry. There’s more blogs, there’s new publications starting up all the time. There’s a lot of writers who get their start on Facebook and Twitter. For Indigenous writers, a community who has something to say and add to the conversation, that technology shift is a big opportunity to us.

On the flip side though, I worry sometimes that there is going to be, as Harold Cardinal [Cree writer and political leader] wrote about in the 60s and 70s, a “buckskin curtain”. That we will be confined to reservations of not just literal geography, but also of political discourse, of journalism, of career opportunities. That we will be constantly cast as Indigenous people who only talk about Indigenous issues.

And to me, on a continent that has taken so much from First Nations, everything is in some way an Indigenous issue. And Indigenous people should have a say on all of the issues of the day, whether that be the rights of our community, or questions of economic equality, justice or immigration. We clearly have something to say about all of these things.

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Photo: Julian Brave NoiseCat

Do you think Indigenous people have a certain responsibility to their culture? To learn it, and continue it. In a way that other cultures may not with the same urgency? And how would you suggest going about this? You’re an accomplished writer and activist, but how can anyone become involved?

I think all cultures have a lot to offer. I think culture is just fundamentally cool, and I don’t think that it is exclusively an Indigenous thing. Obviously, we have a particular history of our culture being under attack. So I think that creates a certain imperative to maintain, strengthen and carry forward our culture, but I think those cultures are constantly changing.

Our culture is not exclusively the traditions of our grandparents, or the generations before them. They’re also the things that Native youth are today with in Winnipeg with hip-hop, Native actors and directors are doing today in Vancouver, or any of the things our fantastic writers are doing with the written word. I think that it’s all of those things.

What are some of your next projects, or goals for the near future?

I have conversations constantly with different publications about articles that I’m writing. I recently got back from Paris where I spoke at the Festival America, which is a North American-focused literature festival. I’m writing a couple of pieces about that, about the history of Indigenous travellers in Paris, and Indigenous artists and writers passing through there today. Playing with the question of “What is Indigenous Paris”? And in the longer term, I’d love to write a book. I’ve been getting queries from publishers and agents, and I’m in the early stages of figuring out what that book would be about.


Julian Brave NoiseCat is a correspondent at Real America with Jorge Ramos, contributing editor for Canadian Geographic, and freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, The Paris Review, and many other publications. He was a finalist for a National Magazine Award, Best New Magazine Writer in 2018. A proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen and descendant of the Lil’Wat Nation of Mount Currie, he resides in Washington, D.C.

Interview conducted by Tobey VanWeston.

Submissions for the 42nd National Magazine Awards are now being accepted! Magazines and creators are invited to submit their best work of 2018 in 29 categories, including the prestigious Best New Magazine Writer category. The final submissions deadline is January 18, 2019. Click here to begin the submissions process.

Off the Page: Lauren Tamaki

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Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. In this interview, we catch up with Lauren Tamaki. Lauren is a Canadian illustrator who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. At the 41st annual NMAs, Lauren won Gold in the category of Illustration, for “Get the Scissors,” published in The Walrus. Read on to learn more about her creative process, use of acrylic ink, and future projects.

tamaki1.pngThe visuals you created for this comedic piece balanced perfectly with a harsh reality for women everywhere. You bridge the gap so seamlessly between the text and visual and you and Scaachi perfectly complement each other to appreciate humour all the while documenting hardship. The story challenges cultural codes and conventions of femininity—did you consider the social undertone a privilege or a responsibility to represent in your work, and what were the most important story arcs in Scaachi’s editorial that shaped your work?

When illustrating an article, I feel responsibility to the author! Because Scaachi’s book (the piece was an excerpt from her book One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter) is about the experience of a woman of colour and women’s bodies, it’s inherently political. The STRUGGLE was what I wanted to communicate in the illustration; you feel the desperation mount as the story progresses!

The projects featured in your online portfolio experiment with a lot of watercolour. Do you like to be variant with your use of media choice and do you strategically chose particular media for each project you do?

Everything you think is watercolour on my site is actually coloured acrylic ink. I think choice of medium and the application of that medium plays a big part of a final piece—black ink can be swooshy and fun or very precise, for example. I chose to go with frantic pencil vibes for Scaachi’s story because it suited the mood perfectly (tornadoes of scribbled hair, etc).

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On your website, you have completed illustrations under the subject ‘Runway’ in your Fashion and Beauty category. In comparing these two projects from the ‘model’ to dealing with body image and identity, how did you shift gears into “Get The Scissors” to offer a distressing dressing room experience instead of a glamourous one?

It’s a joy and a responsibility to depict women of all shapes and sizes. It’s not a hard mental shift for me to go from fashion to something more realistic. The story did not call for a glamourous vibe—it details something SO many of us have gone through, so I wanted it to be grounded. Even though Scaachi is a pretty glamorous woman, she keeps it real, as the kids (used to) say.

In 2017, you sketched the Bill Cosby Trial for The New York Times. In 2009 you graduated in Fashion Design and in 2011, you went on to graduate with a second Bachelor of Arts in Design. What initiated the transition from fashion and design into editorial art?

I always knew I wanted to be an illustrator… my fashion design degree was a way of putting it off, to be perfectly honest. I worked in the fashion industry only eight months before I went back to school for Visual Communications at ACAD, which was the best decision of my life! All I’ve ever wanted to do is draw.

In the future, in what area and for which platform to do you want the focus of your work to be in?

More fashion please! I know I’ve been downplaying the whole fashion thing, but I do really really love it. I was never meant to make clothes, but I sure do love drawing the visions of fabulous designers. I’ve also always wanted to do a series for an opera (COC, looking at you) or a series for a theatre season!

 

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You have worked with an extensive list of clients and your ‘bragging’ section online is an archive of recent awards, including your NMA award. What does your Gold Illustration Award mean to you as an artist?

It was quite a surprise! The Walrus submitted the illustration, which meant I forgot about it, so when I got the email about the nomination, I was like… neat!!! When I walked into the awards show and saw the scale, the time and care that had been put into every aspect, then I started to get nervous! Winning the gold was very unexpected. The Scaachi illustration was simple and the other nominees had really involved, detailed pieces! I was blown away. The fact I made an illustration in a style I care about won something? Incredible.

Which Canadian publication is on your radar to work with next?

I would love to illustrate more books and there is no shortage of incredible publishers in Canada—Tundra, Drawn & Quarterly… In terms of magazines, there are so so many beautiful Canadian publications… and they all should call me! Haha! Also, 48 North just released a stunning magazine called Latitude that I’d love to work on.


In addition to her National Magazine Award, Lauren has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, Society of News Design, and American Illustration. Her most recent project involved illustrating Caroline Paul’s book, You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World (Bloomsbury, May 2018). You can read more about Lauren’s work here.

Interview conducted by Bethany Browne.

The call for entries for the 2019 National Magazine Awards opens on December 17, 2018. Click here for more information on submissions.

Off the Page: Selina Boan

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Photo credit: Rachel Jansen

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. We recently spoke with writer Selina Boan, who won the Gold medal for Poetry last year for her poems (Good) “Girls Don’t Hitchhike”, Half/Brother and Meet Cree: A Practical Guide to the Cree Language published in The New Quarterly. Her work has also appeared in Room and CV2, among others, and she was shortlisted for the CBC poetry prize in 2016. Boan currently lives on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territories of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in British-Columbia, and is the Circulation Editor at PRISM international.
Where and when did you write these three poems?
I wrote these poems over the course of several years. I carried them with me on walks, at vigils, washing dishes, visiting family. For me, an initial draft of a poem begins to take shape when I have time to be in a quiet space (or in a coffee shop with headphones!). It gives me the chance to revisit observations and thoughts I’ve been combing through. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where the initial drafts of each of these poems were written since they came together slowly and in various iterations. I moved several times in the years these poems began to take shape and was very fortunate to have a number of peers and teachers, whose work I deeply respect, offer their suggestions and insights.
Did you set out to write them together?
I didn’t actually! The poems grew from my experience connecting with family and learning more about my Cree heritage, trying to teach myself the Cree language from the internet, wrestling with how to write about everything I was learning. I didn’t grow up with the Cree side of my family and so much of my writing circles in on identity; what it means to contribute to a community, how to negotiate my position as both a settler and an urban indigenous person, how to be mindful of where I come from, how I was raised, and how I am learning.
I am interested in the way languages shape our worldviews and the knowledge and power language contains. The poem “Waȟpániča” by Layli Long Soldier comes to mind. That poem was electric for me. She captures the complexities of loss, hope and identity in relation to language. For me, poetry provides a space to ask questions, to imagine new futures.
You’ve spoken before about changing details in your poetry to protect your own and other identities. How do you decide what to mask and what not?
Poetry, in many ways, provides me space to work through the messiness of life. I don’t live in a vacuum, and so changing certain details in my work is often done out of respect for the people in my life. I will sometimes blur time, I will shift details. It’s something that I think about quite a lot; how much do I share? Who am I really writing for? How vulnerable do I actually want to be on the page?
You’re currently working on a book of poems that addresses your Cree and European heritage. How did you decide to focus your energy here?
It was not so much a choice to focus my energy there as it informs who I am, my experiences, and the things I am compelled or interested in writing about.  I can’t imagine writing a book of poems that negated or erased that, it would be an erasure of myself. In my work, I keep returning to and circling ideas around identity, around settler responsibility, around womanhood, and language learning.
I am slowly working on a manuscript of poems, a section of which will make up my creative writing thesis at UBC.
What did it mean to you to be recognized at the NMAs last year?
I was so surprised! It was such an honour to be published and nominated by The New Quarterly, let alone win. I can think of so many incredible writers, including the other nominees, who deserve that award. I am so grateful to so many writers: Jordan Abel, Gregory Scofield, Leanne Simpsons, Lee Maracle, Louise Bernice Halfe, Liz Howard (to name only a few!) whose work has paved the way and carved out space for indigenous voices within the literary community.
Can you describe when you first began to identify as a poet?
My mother has had a huge influence on my creative life. She was always very encouraging and even from a young age, she took the poem-like things I was writing or speaking aloud to myself and identified them as poetry. That said, it’s taken most of my life to gain the confidence to call myself a poet. I can recall someone asking me, do you write? Then you’re a poet. I loved that. I love the idea of poetry being something that is accessible.
What makes poetry your preferred form?
Poetry renders language to its most crucial elements. In the world of a poem, every word has the potential to carry multiple meanings. It asks you to listen, to uncover, to consider the complexity of a moment, a single word, a comma, a breath between lines. Poetry demands your attention and has the power to reveal what may or may not always be obvious. It reveals what is possible. I find that so exciting and empowering!
What’s it like for you to live and work as a poet today?
I feel very lucky to be surrounded by a strong, thoughtful community of people who work and publish with a deep consideration of their positionality in the world, who are advocating and writing towards an inclusive, decolonial future. There is a lot of hope and energy present. There is also a lot of work to be done.
Reading and hearing the incredible work of other indigenous writers like Jessica Johns, Carleigh Baker, Joshua Whitehead, Gwen Benaway, Samantha Nock, and Arielle Twist, (to name only a few!) inspires me, teaches me, moves me. I feel really lucky to be able to work at something I love so much.
Interview conducted by Stephanie Philp.
The call for entries for the 2018 National Magazine Awards is open now until January 22. The gold medal winner in the poetry category receives a $1,000 cash prize. 

Off the Page: Terence Byrnes

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Terence Byrnes (Photo: Patricia Woodburn)

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. In this interview, we chat with Montreal-based writer and photographer Terence Byrnes. Last year at the NMAs, Terence was awarded the gold medal in the category of Photography: Photojournalism & Photo Essay for “South of Buck Creek.” Byrnes succinctly captures the premise of the photo essay by way of a subheading: “A Canadian memoir of black and white in America’s unhappiest city.”  Read on for Terence’s thoughts on maintaining sympathetic neutrality towards the residents of Springfield, Ohio; smart phones and the democratization of photography; and his advice for emerging photographers.

First, congratulations on winning gold at the NMAs for “South of Buck Creek,” published in Geist. Your photo essay describes Buck Creek as a “cabinet of wonders.” In your career as a photographer, have you found other subjects, or places, that could be described as such?

I shot for a while in Buffalo when that city was among the rustiest of rust-belt towns. The industrial desolation, abandonment, and sense of fallen empire were awe-inspiring. In a residential area, I saw a man, wearing only dirty white briefs, roasting a wiener in a hubcap where he had built a fire with twigs. This was at the end of a street of McMansions protected with black iron grillwork over every door and window. Is that a wonder? I don’t know.

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The essay portion of your piece notes that you took approximately 10,000 photos of Buck Creek, over a span of 45 years. How do you organize all of your photos?

Ten thousand was a guess. It’s more than that. Many are negatives, with some chromes. I worked from proof sheets to produce scans on a Nikon scanner. I moved to digital capture in 2003. Lightroom keeps track of it for me.

Do you have an absolute favourite from those 10,000 photos?

One day, I was photographing an oddly shaped building—it may even have been a skinny parallelogram—that housed a bar. “Bob City” was painted on one end of it. Railroad tracks, a sidewalk, and several streets converged and diverged behind the building, and dandelions had popped up in a patch of grass in front of it. I spent about 45 minutes finding the right position and height to put these elements into proper relation with each other. When I processed the film (this was probably 30 years ago) air bubbles had stuck to the best frame in the series, rendering it unusable. Wanting to salvage that frame eventually led me to early digital scanning of negatives and moved me out of the darkroom to the screen, where I patched the bubbles. I can’t say if this image was an “absolute favourite,” but it’s got a lot of history stored in it.

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Within the first few pages of the photo essay, we jump from the sixties with “Terria (1966)” to the early 2000s with “South of Buck Creek” (2001), then to the 90s, with “Joy (1999).” What were your intentions behind the non-chronological organization of this photo essay?

“Intuitions” is probably a better word that “intentions.” When you establish an order for a photographic series, some arrangements just look better. I suppose I want the eye to re-orient itself to the formal elements of each image so the photograph is actually seen. Also, ordering by year suggests development of some sort, or it implies a narrative. As it was, the images themselves were my first priority.

Very early on in the photo essay, you state that your role in Buck Creek shifted from spectator to participant. Certainly, that theme—of your enmeshment in the Buck Creek community—runs throughout: there’s the “crazy moment” when you “fantasized about adopting” one of the boys from the Vision for Youth residence; you carried the “Friends (1977)” photo around for years, hoping to eventually deliver it to one of the photo’s subjects, “scary guy.” What challenges came along with crossing that line from spectator to participant?

Great question. I had to maintain sympathetic neutrality toward everyone and to learn—more than once— that folks who looked down-and-out could be as smart, respectful, and as deserving of respect, as anyone else. Honesty and openness were crucially important. A subject might say, “Take my picture, but don’t ever use it,” and my agreement would have to be as good as gold.  People were blown away when I would come back a year later with free photographs. That’s how the street cred developed. Of course, there were rough spots and challenges that were both emotional and physical. I saw families living in misery and stripped of dignity thanks to bad luck, fear of gang activity, and profound physical and emotional disability (with no health care or institutional support). You want to help, but you can’t.

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“Marriage (1998)” features a woman in her bikini, with her two twin daughters. The narrative portion states, “In the later years of this project, women wouldn’t so easily agree to have their pictures taken. They were afraid, as one told me, that their faces would appear atop a nude body on the Internet.” It seems that while the Internet has encouraged people to document their lives—via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram—it’s also made it more difficult for photographers to act as the documentarian. Are there other ways in which the growth of social media and the shift to digital have impacted your career as a photographer?

Camera phones have, in a sense, radically democratized photography and, for many people, have done away with the cachet of the physical print. Academic criticism and identity politics have also had a less than salutary effect on the documentary form. Some months ago, I glanced outside my window here in the Point-Saint-Charles district of Montreal and saw an 11-year-old boy got up in a home-made superhero costume, holding a garbage can lid as a shield. I knew it was pure Arbus, but couldn’t resist. When I asked the boy if I could take a photograph, a teenage girl ran up and began shouting at me. Her assumption—thanks to her familiarity with internet images—was that I was about to do something that was immoral as well as illegal.

Your first camera was an Agfa Ambi Silette loaded with Tri-X film. These days, what’s your camera of choice?

Actually, before the Agfa, there was a Kodak “Pony,” which I had forgotten. You’ve caught me at a crossroads now, though. Should I move up from my Nikon D810 to the new D850 or switch to the mirrorless Sony A7R III? Probably the new Nikon.

In 2008, you published Closer to Home: The Author and the Author Portrait, which you had worked on for 10 years. That means that there was some crossover between the literary portraits and Buck Creek. What similarities were there between these two seemingly very different projects?

Both were closer to the subjects’ homes than to the studio. I tend to shoot on-site and to make it up as I go along. This can produce really banal results, but also great surprises in lighting, posture, expression, and mood.

What was the impact—personally and/or professionally—of winning a National Magazine Award?

I think it makes me an easier sell to editors who don’t know me. And if I pitch an idea, I’m more likely to be listened to.

What advice would you offer to a young photographer?

The advice I give myself is often so disastrous that I should keep my own counsel. That said, I think of current work that catches my eye. I love the work of Tamas Deszo, Sebastián Liste, and Ruth Kaplan. Or Michel Huneault’s photographs of Lac Mégantic after the train disaster. There are some wonderful documentarians out there who do far more than record event. I would have been interested in photographing the refugees/migrants who streamed across the border in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in the belief they would find a home in Canada. Good projects don’t have to be topical, but they do have to be fresh.


Previous to Byrnes’ NMA gold award, he received two NMA honourable mentions. The first was in 2009, for “The Imagined Portrait” published in Queen’s Quarterly. The second was in 2012 for “The Missing Piece,” published in The Walrus. For more information on Byrnes’ photography and writing projects, please visit his website

Interview conducted by Leah Edwards.

The call for entries for the 2018 National Magazine Awards is open now until January 22. 

Off the Page: Daniel Fish

 

Michael Bryant is a polarizing figure to people both in the legal community and outside and we knew that people really didn’t know what had happened to him. We knew that it was going to make a certain amount of a spl (1).png
Photo Credit: Ian Patterson

 

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Daniel Fish, the senior editor of Precedent, a quarterly magazine curated for Toronto lawyers. Fish won the Gold medal for best professional article for his exclusive feature on former attorney general Michael Bryant. Precedent last won gold in 2014 for Raymond Biesinger’s illustration A Well-Oiled Machine.

How did it feel to be the first reporter at Precedent to win a National Magazine Award for writing?
It was super satisfying! We’d been recognized at the Canadian Business Media awards and the KRWs before but to have a piece of writing given some recognition by the best people in the business was huge. It’s not something that happens to everyone and there’s no guarantee that it will happen again. It wasn’t something that I expected, so it really was just a huge treat.
Can you tell me a bit about how your first got the Bryant story?
Sure! I guess that’s going back to the winter of 2015. Sean Robichaud, a criminal lawyer who runs his own law chambers, had mentioned to Melissa Kluger (editor and publisher of Precedent) that she might be interested to know that a high profile person just joined his new chambers—it was Michael Bryant. When she told me, I didn’t immediately know the story was going to have the kind of richness that would be required for a long cover story. But it was interesting enough, even just the fact that he was getting back into the game after people hadn’t seen him in so long would’ve at least justified a short front of book news piece.Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.57.44 AM

Tell me about your reporting process.
I got in touch with him fairly quickly but didn’t hear anything for months. In the spring he responded to my initial email and said he’d be happy to chat about what the story might be about. After I met with him for the first time, I had an inkling of what the story might be: the attorney general who ran the justice system is becoming a criminal lawyer and starting to see some of the injustices in the criminal justice system that he was oblivious to when he ran it. That was what sold me and made me think that there might be more to the story. When I took it back to Melissa to talk to her about it I could say that there was something here that’s richer than just “here’s Michael Bryant becoming a criminal lawyer.” There was a kind of poetry to the story that we could pack in and make it a cover story.

Bryant published an autobiographical book called 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope in 2012, how did it influence your story?
The big blockbuster revelation in his book which I think people knew but he hadn’t spoken publicly about, was the fact that he’d struggled with alcoholism. He also talked about what happened on the day of the accident (1) and going through that experience. I think in that book he was pretty proud of his tenure as attorney general. So we had to think… the accident is old news, we certainly don’t want to re-litigate what happened, the fact that he struggled with alcoholism is also old news and so much had been written about him already. We really had to think what could we add to the story, what we could add to the next chapter in that book. I would also say that it’s a huge advantage to write about someone who has a published autobiography because an enormous amount of the work is done for you. I had not ever done that before, or since, and I wish every one of my sources would provide a full biography.

Did anything stand out to you while reporting?
I remember I interviewed his pastor because a big part of Bryant’s narrative was that after the accident and after he’d fallen away from politics, he started going to a non-denominational Christian charity in downtown Toronto. His pastor revealed to me that Byrant had considered becoming a minister and that he thought that maybe religion was going to fuel meaning in his life. The story only got richer the more that things went on.
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How was it to interview him? He’s known to be a bit gregarious.
He was a fun interview. There’s no question that he’s a very seasoned politician. But also as a politician he was sort of a straight shooter. I think journalists enjoyed talking to him because he didn’t necessarily stick to party line talking points. He was happy to sound off on what he thought was wrong with the justice system, he wasn’t mincing words.He had no problem saying that the presumption of innocence was a joke. He was a fairly easy interview subject.

How is this story different from others that you’ve worked on?
I guess we knew how much attention it was going to get from our audience and we knew that it was probably going to get more of a focus from the wider world as well. You know the next piece that I wrote on document review did well in the legal community, but I don’t think that people outside of it really picked it up which is fine, that’s not our goal. But I think we were aware that Michael Bryant is a bit of a lightning rod for controversy. We know that he is a polarizing figure to people both in the legal community and outside and we knew that people really didn’t know what had happened to him. We knew that it was going to make a certain amount of a splash upon publication.

What sort of feedback did you get when the piece came out?

The feedback was fairly positive, which was also gratifying. Overall both readers and people from outside of the legal world seemed to be inspired, which wasn’t necessarily the goal of the piece, but they were inspired nonetheless by him trying to make the most meaningful second half of his career as he could. I think people read it and were pleased to hear someone who once perched atop the justice system speak candidly about its flaws. I think people who are in the trenches (so to speak) of defense law—prosecutors and crowns—they know that the system has its problems and so to hear someone like Michael Bryant give voice to that was somewhat satisfying. And I think people just enjoyed the yarn. We don’t write that many 4500 word single profiles.

Fish recently wrote the cover story for Precedent JD (Precedent’s law student magazine) called Are There Too Many Lawyers? He is working on a project now that is exploring the link between mental health problems and the practice of law. You can follow Precedent on twitter here.
Interview conducted by Stephanie Philp.
The call for entries for the 2018 National Magazine Awards is open now until January 22.
(1) Bryant was charged with dangerous driving causing death and criminal negligence causing the death of cyclist Darcy Sheppard in 2009. The charges were eventually dropped.