Ivan Coyote: Talking across boundaries – WORD Christchurch

Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote (Image supplied)

When the WORD blog team put their hand up to cover different sessions at WORD Christchurch, I was fortunately alone in choosing both “The Storyteller” and “Black and Blue Storytelling” with Ivan E. Coyote. As the event continued and audiences enjoyed the stories, people kept coming back for more and more. By Sunday morning, “The Storyteller” session was sold out and WORD volunteers brought more chairs in.

Ivan hails from the Yukon, Canada and their stories are autobiographical, exploring family history and dynamics, gender identity, social justice and equality. At times self-deprecating, but with a good sprinkling of wit and humour so that the messages they are conveying are all the more powerful for being from personal experience. To deliver these messages in any other way, would perhaps come across as a lecture. Ivan has taken pains to point out that that is not their intention. In a Radio New Zealand interview Ivan explained that the medium they use is very traditional, whilst the subject matter is not. They write the story down and craft it before learning it, then once it is learnt, they are able to really tell it and tweak it and ad-lib for the audience. The result is a very natural, polished telling by a gifted raconteur.

Autobiographical storytelling requires a fine balance between truth and privacy. Ivan applies a strict set of criteria to their writing / telling. They ensure that the story is honouring and they thoroughly examine their own motivation in writing the story – for example are they trying to ensure that they have the last word? The essence of this is ensuring that they show compassion and that they “use their powers for good”. Ever since the sessions during WORD, I keep thinking what a great attitude and approach it is to aim to make everyone, even the most challenging person in the room comfortable and included. At the end of the day, why can’t we all just get along?

Ivan uses story to recount interactions with people with absolute attention to detail. “I’m not so much OCD but ATD – that’s attention to detail”. Through “Scars” we learnt a little about the mysterious world of a hand model, the map of childhood accidents and ultimately the effect of top surgery. This was moving for both the teller and the listeners. The humane telling elicits empathy, groans and sighs from the audience. On Sunday morning there was barely a dry eye in the room.

The session ended on a lighter note with Ivan telling a series of “literary doritos” short, bite-sized stories inspired by overheard snippets of conversation and a standing ovation.

Cover of Tomboy survival guideI asked Ivan if they intended readers to read their collections in order, as it seemed that Missed Her was intended that way. Ivan said that it didn’t matter although the Tomboy Survival Guide would probably be better if it was read in order. You read it here first…

Find stories by Ivan Coyote in the library catalogue

More WORD Christchurch

Speaking Proud – WORD Christchurch

It’s too early to say that Speaking Proud was my favourite WORD session, since it’s the first I’ve attended so far, but for now it is. First time I’ve been back in the COCA gallery since 2010 (for shame!) and it was filled with cool, talented young people with great hair. I was as impressed by the local poets as I was by international writers David Levithan and Ivan E. Coyote. I highly recommend attending their other sessions this weekend, and also supporting the amazing work of Q-topia, Canterbury’s local LGBTQIA+ youth organisation.

David Levithan
David Levithan. Image supplied.

Isla Martin (master of words):

the thing is, I know God

and she doesn’t want us to clap our hands together in prayer,

she wants us to clap and keep clapping for every one of us still fighting and still here

Sophie Rea (funny, heartfelt):

If I ever have a daughter, I will dress her in rainbows.

Later when she’s older I’ll let her pull her wardrobe apart

and let her decide what to wear herself

and she’ll go to kindy in stripes and spots,

pastels and glitter, superhero masks and fairy wings

if she wants.

She’ll go to kindy in cut-off jeans and sneakers, monster truck t-shirts

or pink dresses and clip-on earrings or a mixture of it all

if she wants.

(I will make sure she is warm.)

Kimberley Holmes (tongue in cheek and heart in mouth):

Should I cut off my hair, be a better stereotype

do I owe you, be a better warning of what I happen to be

which team I play?

I’m not some teen boy’s party trick.

I wasn’t playing a game.

David Levithan, reading from Two Boys Kissing:

Love is so painful, how could you ever wish it on anybody?

And love is so essential, how could you ever stand in its way?

CoverIvan E. Coyote, reading from their upcoming book:

I’d have these panic dreams about boys waiting under the backless wooden stairs that led into the portable trailer next to the school where my kindergarten class was held.

I’d have these sweaty, fear-stained dreams of laughing boys looking up my skirt and I couldn’t even kick them properly, because have you ever tried to do a high kick in a long dress? The harder, the higher you kick the faster your one raised leg pulls the other leg out from under you, hot tears on my cheek, my bare thigh all torn up by the gravel and I am quite sure I know many people, even in this room tonight who have perfected a technique to account for the high kick in a long dress phenomenon. But I never did.

Ivan E. Coyote. Image supplied.

If you’re upset you missed out on these great words, don’t despair! Sophie Rea, David Levithan and Ivan E. Coyote are speaking at a number of other events this weekend, listed below. I look forward to seeing you there.

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