LITERARY LOCATION: Kitamaat Village, at the head of the Douglas Channel, home to approximately 700 of the 1700 Haisla members, 10 kilometres from Kitimat and 45 kilometres from the Terrace Airport.

Born in 1968 on the Haisla Nation Kitamaat Reserve, Eden Robinson grew up in Kitimaat, a Haisla village near the mostly white community of Kitimat, located east of the Queen Charlotte Islands on the coast of mainland B.C. She worked as a mail clerk, dry cleaner and receptionist prior to attending writing courses at UBC. In 1996 she published Traplines, a critically acclaimed collection of four short stories that she wrote in four months at UBC's Creative Writing department. Not necessarily autobiographical and mostly concerning dysfunctional families, Traplines (Knopf 1996) won the Winifred Holtby Prize for best work of short fiction by a Commonwealth writer. It was also a New York Times Editor's Choice and Notable Book of the Year.

ENTRY: For many years Eden Robinson had struggled with a more personal story, Monkey Beach (Knopf, 2000), her first novel about a confused teenager who is coming to terms with her 17-year-old brother's disappearance at sea, probably by drowning. Subject to premonitions, the narrator, Lisamarie-named for Elvis Presley's daughter-explores Haisla community life on the central coast. She veers towards danger rather than away from it as the Hills family melds their Haisla heritage with Western ways. Uncle Mick is a Native-rights activist and an Elvis fan. Lisamarie respects that her grandmother Ma-ma-oo is a guardian of tradition but she also has less tangible advisors-ghosts, sasquatches and animal spirits-as she journeys in her speedboat up Douglas Channel to Monkey Beach, a remote stretch of shore renowned for Sasquatch sightings. Haisla mysticism is laid on pretty thick and there are enough forays up remote inlets for a National Geographic article; there are also sasquatch sightings, bits of Haisla vocabulary, a two-page explanation of oolichan grease and a somewhat wonky ending. But at the heart of Monkey Beach is family intimacy. Monkey Beach won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was nominated for the Giller Prize and was shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Long in the works, Robinson's sought-after second novel about extortion and other forms of human manipulation, Blood Sports (2006), is set in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside amid drugs and prostitution. Eden Robinson's uncle was Gordon Robinson [see entry] and her younger sister Carla Robinson has been a CBC national news anchorwoman.

The Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols & Modern Storytelling (University of Alberta, 2011) is the basis of Eden Robinson's address at the 2010 Henry Kreisel Lecture, held at the Canadian Literature Centre in Edmonton. Narrative topics include a trip to Graceland with her mother, and a wilderness outing in which she and her father try to catch a glimpse of the Sasquatch.

Eden Robinson's third novel, Son of a Trickster (Penguin Random House, is reviewed below.

The promotional bio-material for Eden Robinson by Penguin Random House is unusually well-written and useful, prepared in the informational style of ABCBookWorld, so it makes sense to provide it here. (Generally such blurbs are cringeworthy in their need to further the author's reputation: this blurb mostly sticks to the facts.)


"I was born on the same day as Edgar Allan Poe and Dolly Parton: January 19. I am absolutely certain that this affects my writing in some way."

One of Eden Robinson' s biggest literary influences has been Stephen King, whose books she read compulsively between the ages of ten and fourteen, when she started writing her own stories. "I was a bookworm, right from the beginning. When I got bored of classes, I'd skip them and go to the library." Later, studying creative writing at the University of Victoria, Eden says she flunked in fiction and blossomed in poetry. "My first-year poetry professor was Robin Skelton. He was a bit late for class and showed up wearing a pentagram ring. I thought -hey, cool."

As a young writer, Eden Robinson shares some literary territory with the likes of Michelle Berry, Michael Turner, Evelyn Lau and Andrew Pyper, none of whom shirks from portraying the bleaker sides of growing up in the seventies and eighties. As a Native Canadian writer, Robinson joins the ranks of novelists Thomas King, Tomson Highway, Richard Wagamese and Lee Maracle, non-fiction author and poet Gregory Scofield, and playwrights Daniel David Moses and Drew Hayden Taylor in describing Native traditions and modern realities with beautiful, honest language and biting black humour.

Robinson grew up with her older brother and younger sister (CBC-TV anchor Carla Robinson) in Haisla territory near Kitamaat Village, surrounded by the forests and mountains of the central coast of British Columbia. They were children of a mixed marriage-her Haisla father met her Heiltsuk mother during a stop in Bella Bella in his fishing days. Kitamaat, a Tsimshian word meaning "people of the falling snow,"; (and not to be confused with nearby Kitimat town), is home to seven hundred members of the Haisla nation, with another eight hundred or so living off-reserve.

After earning her B.A., Eden Robinson moved to Vancouver to look for work that would allow her to spend time writing. A late-night writer, she ended up taking "a lot of McJobs"; -janitor, mail clerk, napkin ironer. She decided to enter the masters program at the University of British Columbia after having a short story published in its literary magazine PRISM international. Traplines was the young woman's first book, a collection of dark and brutal stories that feature a deadpan, gritty humour. While Eden was finishing work on the book, her paternal grandmother died; Eden feels the knowledge of real grief affected her writing. The book was published in 1996 and won the UK's Winifred Holtby prize.

Eden holed herself up in her Vancouver apartment to write Monkey Beach. Though she had written a novella before (Traplines is composed of just four stories, one over 100 pages long), Eden had to work hard at the structuring of her first novel. The result is compelling and complex; The Washington Post called it "artfully constructed," the National Post deemed it "intricately patterned." Critics in the US, the UK and Canada were unanimous in their appreciation of the book.

Eden Robinson has become one of Canada's first female Native writers to gain international attention, making her an important role model. Monkey Beach evinces a love of her culture - Robinson maintains that if you don't grow up on Oolichan grease, you're not going to learn to love it, never mind make it; and if you grow up on supermarket vegetables, you' re not going to learn when and where to find salmonberry shoots. She has used her celebrity to draw attention in Time magazine to the Canadian government's chipping away at Native health care, and to the lack of subsidized housing for urban Natives. This limited housing leads to overcrowding on reserves, where there is little access to jobs. Robinson argues that Natives forfeited rights and land for just these types of government services. Eden Robinson has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Whitehorse Public Library, and will be working with the Writers in Electronic Residence program, which links schools across the country with professional writers. She enjoys travelling, and supported herself with travel writing in Europe before the publication of Monkey Beach.


Traplines (Knopf, 1996).
Monkey Beach (Knopf, 2000).
Blood Sports (M&S, 2006).
The Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols & Modern Storytelling (University of Alberta, 2011) 978-0-88864-559-3 $10.95
Son of a Trickster (Penguin Random House, 2017)
Trickster Drift (Penguin Random House, 2018) $32.00 978-0-7352-7343-6

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2018]