UWinnipeg grad a rising literary star
UWinnipeg graduate Katherena Vermette already has one Governor General’s award and was shortlisted for a second one for her debut novel, The Break, about a young Métis mother in Winnipeg’s North End. The novel is garnering strong reviews from national media and critics including the Globe and Mail, which calls it “an incredible feat of storytelling.” Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses Company) won the Governor General Literary Award for Poetry in 2013.
Katherena says her Métis identity is an intrinsic influence. “I’ve always known my culture. It is who I am.” She credits her years at UWinnipeg with helping to shape her as a writer and it’s also where she connected with the Indigenous Writers Collective and the Writers Collective of Manitoba, important support networks of peers.
Although she always loved writing, she started her academic journey at UWinnipeg in Criminal Justice more than a decade ago and went on to do advocacy work. “I had two young children, I was a single mom, I was very busy.” She grew up in Winnipeg’s North End, graduated from Sisler High School and then settled in West Broadway. Her children attended the UWSA daycare. “The area around UWinnipeg is my community,” says Katherena. “This is a very familiar place for me to be.”
Busy working and raising children….and yet. Katherena had a thirst to know more about literature. She started reading local authors Catherine Hunter and Margaret Sweatman. When she realized both were professors down the street here at UWinnipeg, she felt drawn to return to school. “It was amazing for me to be studying and learning from Catherine and Margaret and Kathleen Venema, who was also a huge influence. This was fun, it was “me” time. I just kept taking classes and never looked back.”
When asked how she discovered her unique “voice”, Katherena is modest. “Lots of trial and error,” she says. “I just worked hard for many years writing, writing, writing.” She graduated from UWinnipeg with her 4-yr BA in English in 2012. She then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of British Columbia.
In addition to her novel and book of poems, her short documentary, this river (National Film Board of Canada) was released this year. In 2015, Portage and Main Press published her seven volume children’s picture book series, The Seven Teachings Stories. She is currently writing a series on Métis history and another collection of poetry, while also working in the arts and culture industry with Indigenous artists. “I like being busy,” she laughs.
The Break (House of Anansi Press) was released in fall 2016. It is also a 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Finalist.
A synopsis of The Break from the publisher
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break – a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house – she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected with the victim tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
“Every page hides beauty amid suffering; love winning out over violence and hate. Stella, at one point in the novel, thinks about “[a] story that didn’t happen to her but that she keeps and remembers.” The Break is like that; it is a story that will stick with you a long time.” The National Post
“Fiction is capable of helping us to comprehend difference and otherness, and The Break offers clear insight into people struggling to secure a place in the world.” Quill and Quire
Diane Poulin, Senior Communications Specialist, The University of Winnipeg
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