Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A Minor Chorus looks at modern love and the Indigenous experience – read an excerpt now

A minor choir is the debut novel by poet and Griffin Poetry Prize-winning author Billy-Ray Belcourt.

A minor choir will follow an anonymous narrator who abandons his thesis and returns to his hometown, where he has a series of intimate encounters emphasizing the modern queer and Indigenous experience.

Belcourt is a writer and scholar from Driftpile Cree Nation in Alberta. In 2016, he became the first Indigenous person from Canada to be a Rhodes Scholar.

Belcourt won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize for This wound is a world. The first collection also won 2018 Indigenous Voices Award for the most significant work of poetry in English and was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

His second book, NDN coping mechanisms, uses poetry, prose, and textual art to explore how Indigenous and queer communities are excluded from mainstream media. It was on the Canada reads long list 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards.

He is also the author of memoirs A story of my brief body, who recounts how his family was impacted by colonialism and intergenerational trauma and yet still holds joy and love in his heart and life.

A minor choir depicts a “gender-bending” exploration of northern Alberta and an experimental take on the form of the novel, but told in the voice of a “twenty-something queer native protagonist who loves theory and is depressed “Belcourt said. Radio-Canada Books. “The book also deals with the lives of a whole chorus of imaginary people from northern Alberta, taking their sufferings and dreams seriously as worthy of literary investment,” he added.

“In 2018, I was devoured by what one of Roland Barthes’ translators (Kate Briggs) called the ‘Fantasy-of-the-Novel’, which does not speak of the novel as an object but as of a way of life, of a way of consideration.. The novel is a way to live out one’s aesthetic beliefs…I wanted to write a book that felt community at its core,” Belcourt said.

A minor choir will be available on September 13, 2022.

You can read an excerpt from A minor choir below.

It was April of last year, she began. There was still snow on the ground. I remember how it melted under my slippers, how I forgot to take them off my wet feet when I went back to bed. Jack called me around two in the morning. Nobody’s phone rings this late on a Saturday night unless it’s bad news.

By then, I had already started to sleep poorly, going in and out of consciousness until morning. I went up the stairs as soon as I heard the bell; it was as if my body had returned to a more agile state. I’m going home, kokum, he whispered to me before I could say hello. I think a cop is following me. I got a little drunk, but I’m not drunk or anything. I promise. I’m on the dirt road, just before the ground floor. Jack, I said, listen to me, Jack.

I mentioned his name a dozen times during this conversation. It was all I could handle –Jack, she said, once more, letting him embalm us like a secret. It was an unanswered sign, the opposite of an incantation, a warning, something like, Course!

Jack swore sharply, which still made Mary flinch, then he hung up. He would leave it on speaker so she could hear everything, but he told her she had to shut up.

Jack swore sharply, which still made Mary flinch, then he hung up. He would leave it on speaker so she could hear everything, but he told her she had to shut up.

Right away, she discerned what she initially thought were muffled radio sounds, but what was actually the deep voice of a male officer. Jack cut the contact and suddenly there was a kind of oppressive silence, so thick and porous at the same time that they shared it, as if there was no longer any distinction between where she was and where he was, as if their combined terror violated scientific law. .

Then, she continued, the officer opened the door and, like thunder, he began to shout again; despite being screened by a phone, his resounding speech startled him.

Put your hands behind your head! Descend! On the ground! The officer screamed with a seriousness that hit Mary again, physically, miles away.

Mary ran outside, without thinking, hoping that Jack was closer to home than he had said, that she could see him, that the officer would know he was loved. All she found was darkness and so she stood in it, her feet swallowed by the snow, clutching the phone, praying for Jack to be peacefully arrested.

She was so desperate – it wasn’t a question of what was awful and what wasn’t anymore. There were degrees of horror, and she learned to face and live within some of them.

A grandmother, the night buzzing around her, waiting for what will break her heart – how else to set the scene for rural Alberta?

My whole body tensed, she continued. It was as if she herself was expecting to be shot. Or like Jack getting shot meant she would be too. She always worried that if Jack were to die before her, it would be catastrophically, from a bullet from an officer, for example.

Nobody wants to outlive a child, nobody, she says. It was a cliche that suddenly seemed new, shocking, piercing.

Nobody wants to outlive a child, nobody, she says. It was a cliche that suddenly seemed new, shocking, piercing.

All Mary could do was listen, so she focused her sensory powers on the act of hearing. The phone was pressed so hard against her ear that there was a gash when she finally pulled it out.

She heard a few growls, which she couldn’t say; for a second she didn’t know if Jack was dead or alive or if his face had been buried in the gravel or if he was kneeling there, politely, posed. They might as well have happened simultaneously, she said, because she felt a range of emotions rolled into one. Her body stopped feeling like a body. Then the connection ended. She was hooked.

She didn’t move – for how long, she didn’t know. Maybe something inside her was resisting what had happened; to move would have been to surrender to reality. If the officer had used excessive force, she said, it would have been the fourth or fifth time this month that a man on the rez had been unlawfully brutalized. But, of course, Jack was. He was fourth or fifth.

I knew this kind of story, as all Native people knew it, but my body reacted as if I was hearing it for the first time. The hairs on my arms stood up, as if to say “enough.” Who or what is the body pleading to?

Extract of A minor choir by Billy Ray Belcourt. Copyright © 2022 Billy-Ray Belcourt. Published by Hamish Hamilton Canada, and imprinted by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by agreement with the publisher. All rights reserved.