Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She is a former director of the Office of Indian Education in the U.S. Department of Education. Boulley lives in southwest Michigan, but her home will always be on Sugar Island. The Printz Award-winner Firekeeper's Daughter (Holt Books for Young Readers) is her debut.
Wow! 2021 was a year for you--congratulations! Before this morning, Firekeeper's Daughter was already a 2021 Kids' Indie Next List title, a Time Magazine Best YA Book of All Time selection and is being adapted by Barack Obama and Michelle Obama's production company, Higher Ground. Now it's the Michael L. Printz Award winner, the William C. Morris Award winner and an American Indian Literature Award honoree in the young adult category. How are you feeling?
I am wonderfully overwhelmed. It feels like being on The Price Is Right showcase showdown and the announcer keeps saying, "But wait, there's more!"
I attended your speech at ALA and loved hearing about how long the ideas for your debut marinated in your head. What does it feel like to have made that book a reality and have it received with such love?
The idea for Firekeeper's Daughter was so potent. It always seemed bigger than me, and I wanted to do justice to this story. To have it received with such love feels special, especially when Indigenous readers tell me I got it right.
How was that class on cooking meth? Did your research lead you anywhere else surprising?
The class on meth was eye-opening. I'd imagined a lab with beakers but learned about a method using a two-liter pop bottle. Mini meth "labs" can be hidden in bathrooms, industrial drums, car trunks and deer blinds. I researched so many topics: money laundering, the history of GPS, early 2000s fashion, math theorems, cryptocurrency, hallucinogenic mushrooms and hockey (of course).
Will this book lead to another one?
I'm on deadline for my next book, which isn't a traditional sequel but has familiar faces and is set once again in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It features an "Indigenous Lara Croft" raiding museums to reclaim ancestors' remains and sacred items. Of course, one of her heists goes very badly.
The book sold a few months before the pandemic hit, meaning that you haven't been able to tour, meet with readers, attend conferences.... What has this process been like?
The authors who suffered were those whose books came out in spring and summer of 2020 when everything was canceled. By the time my book was published in March 2021, it was a full year into the pandemic. By then, the publishing world had pivoted to virtual events. I was able to connect with readers at in-person events following social-distancing guidelines this past summer, but nothing like the grand book tours I had imagined. Hopefully we can gather safely this year for some of those big events!
What do you hope readers take from Firekeeper's Daughter?
I hope readers see that we (Native Americans) are still here, and our stories are not relics of the past. Also, I hope readers want to read more stories with Indigenous characters so they can get a sense of the differences between and within Native communities.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to Shelf Awareness readers?
If you've read a book and love it, please rate, review and recommend it to others. Request titles by Native authors from your local public library. Those are free things readers can do to support emerging authors. Word of mouth is so impactful! --Siân Gaetano, children's/YA editor, Shelf Awareness