Coyote's collected correspondence offers meaningful, insightful dialogue
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/07/2021 (519 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dear Ivan Coyote,
My editor said it was OK to write to you like this, given the form of your new book — all these wondrous letters to you, mostly from strangers, alternating with your careful replies.
With this collection, your 14th book, you break into the epistolary tradition and do it proud.
Even the salutations are intriguing, ranging as they do from the brusque and foreboding “Ivan” to the devil-may-care “Hey Coyote.”
It is endlessly interesting and sometimes heartbreaking to read what prompted them to write, and what stories they in turn draw out of you.
It is equally moving to see how the global pandemic created an interlude in which you could revisit every missive, note and email that you’ve collected over the years and compose the kind of replies that only time affords.
The best thing about this book is its sense of the sacred: how awestruck you are by the beauty of the world; how the dead haunt so many pages here; how storytelling and words fall on the knife’s edge between dreaming and damnation.
Or maybe the best thing is the contribution to the meaning of gender that this book comprises, brilliantly co-created between you and your correspondents.
Or maybe it’s both. Which is to say that gender — whether trans or otherwise, fluidly experienced or not — comes through as something sacred, given that it is bound up with the risks and mystery of being alive.
Following the lead of your correspondents, I will note when I first encountered your storytelling. It was about five years ago, when I stumbled across your piece Tomboys Still in the ginormous anthology I use for teaching Intro English. I was really dazzled by it.
Tomboys Still closes the anthology, in a brilliant editorial decision. After hundreds of pages of prose and poetry, drawn from centuries of writing, you get the final say. J.K. Rowling does not.
In the same way as Tomboys Still gathers together glimmers of individuals whose very existence in Whitehorse, Yukon, gave you a sense of hope, this book enacts a similar form of gathering to create a counterforce against bigotry and meanness.
Everything comes together so well. Thematic echoes across the letters start to surface, just as intricate similes layer into approaches to difficult subjects. A careful sense of narrative pacing governs the structure as a whole, and the comedic twists are just downright skilled.
Little by little, for instance, we get to know your father. He first appears at the edges of your memories, as someone who can’t get your pronouns straight and who once asked you to shoot him in the head with a sketchy old gun.
He returns in later letters, gradually coming into focus. By the end the book, we are right there with you in your fraught affection for him, half-hoping that he reads what you have written and half-hoping that he won’t.
It is quite brilliant how your autobiography and family history take shape in between other people’s attempts at self-expression and connection with you.
The result is a composite, unfinished memoir of queer and trans ways of being and perceiving.
All these stories between you and your correspondents move into the place of the one authoritative voice, which our culture tends to lionize, and allow for something more democratic to materialize.
Dana Medoro is a professor of English at the University of Manitoba.