Five questions for Thomas King

Originally a short story in the author’s 1993 adult collection One Good Story, That One, Thomas King’s Borders (Little, Brown, 11 years and up) is now a graphic novel, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. When the narrator and his mother are stopped at the U.S.-Canada border and asked about their citizenship, Mom’s repeated and insistent response — Blackfoot — results in their travel being curtailed.

1. What compelled you to revisit this story now?

Thomas King: The story was published nearly thirty years ago, and I hadn’t really thought about it all that much since. Generally, I write a story and then move on. The only reason I revisited this one was because there was interest in turning it into a graphic novel. None of my stories and the phrase “graphic novel” had ever been in the same sentence before, so the possibility of Borders becoming one was intriguing.

2. With the protagonist being a child, did you have an audience in mind when you wrote the original and/or this adaptation?

TK: The protagonist is more a young boy than a child, and I didn’t have a particular audience in mind. I try to imagine that everything I write can reach a general audience. I’m not sure that I know how to write for adults or how to write for children, or if there is a big difference. So when I write, I write for readers.

3. So much is understated in the story — were you surprised by anything that your characters “saw” or experienced in this graphic-novel version?

TK: Having a story turned into a graphic novel changes the story in large and small ways. The biggest change is that the story is now filtered through someone else’s imagination, and so it becomes a different story. The original Borders was mine. The graphic version of Borders is Natasha’s. Suddenly you see characters you’d only imagined. For instance, I had a particular Mel in mind. Natasha drew a different Mel. And actually, I like her version better.

4. You’ve written: fiction, nonfiction, short stories, poetry, mystery, Coyote stories for children, and more. What has writing in each genre or style shown you about the others?

TK: I don’t think about writing in genres. I tell stories, and some of the stories fit into what is called children’s literature and some into literary fiction, some into nonfiction and some into mysteries. But for me, it’s all storytelling. I’m not sure I pay a great deal of attention to where the stories are placed by other folks. For instance, I don’t think of Borders as a book for children. So far as I’m concerned, it’s a story for a general audience. In the end, it’s the writing itself that teaches me things about storytelling, not the genres.

5. Who are some other Indigenous authors you recommend?

TK: When I was a young man, there were very few Native writers. Now there is a landscape full of good writers from various backgrounds. To mention a few is to suggest the rest. Writers such as Tanya Talaga, Eden Robinson, Marilyn Dumont, Lee Maracle, Drew Hayden Taylor, Jesse Wente, Richard Wagamese, Tomson Highway, Joshua Whitehead, Basil Johnston, Cherie Dimaline, Michelle Good, Waubgeshig Rice, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, and the list goes on. I used to pride myself on having read every Native writer who published a story or a poem or a book. That is no longer true, and it hasn’t been true for a while now. Such a happy occurrence.

From the November 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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