Cover Image: Making Love with the Land

Making Love with the Land

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Member Reviews

I didn't understand what "creative non-fiction" was supposed to be until I read the first two magnificent essays in this collection, ironically even before Joshua Whitehead begins his somewhat disparaging essay on the subject. As with any art, there's a strong sense of "I know it when I see it", and I definitely knew I was looking at creative non-fiction with the first two essays, Who Names The Rez Dog <i>rez</i>? and My Body Is A Hinterland.

So it was interesting to see the entire subgenre dissected by the author in the essay immediately following, On Ekphrasis And Emphasis. I enjoyed the critique of Western thought that consigns the mystical phenomenon of everyday Indigenous life to, at best, magical realism, as this is a discussion I've recently been having about Southeast Asian experiences as well. I rather wish the author had engaged with this topic more as a conversation on that consignment's origins in post-Enlightenment thought tho, whose original authors sought to escape the oppression of Western religious/mainstream authority on writing, a struggle and aim shared by modern Indigenous writing. This isn't, ofc, a defense of rationalism: it just feels counterproductive, especially in a collection of essays searching for connection and understanding, to highlight only the differences and not consider the mutual goals.

I did appreciate overall the way this collection of essays engaged both with the NDN experience and with Cree as a living language (the essay A Geography Of Queer Woundings is phenomenal!) Most importantly, the frankness of Mr Whitehead's discussion of the intersection between being queer and being Indigenous was a welcome exploration. I loved the grace of his dissection of a break up with a fellow queer Native in the essay Me, The Joshua Tree. He's also admirably blunt about his struggles with eating disorders, and how that connects to his history of eating the pain of his loved ones, in one of the collection's most brilliant extended metaphors.

There were bits, of course, that felt self-indulgent -- so few memoir-based full-length writings avoid that trap -- but Mr Whitehead's writing mostly manages to pull back from true excess. I was actually surprised after the fact to find that he's in his early 30s: his work feels more considered than that of most of his age peers, but I suppose he's had a lot more to deal with than they have, after all. 

Speaking of age, I really loved his essay on The Year In Video Gaming. The frank discussion on how video games are a much needed refuge and support for kids who feel alienated was both heartfelt and spot-on. I especially appreciated the way he pointed out how mainstream video games, and role-playing games in particular, allow children and the under-socialized to practice conversations and social interactions in a controlled, low-stakes environment. Further, they allow thoughtful players to consider what constitutes ethical behavior in-game and how that carries over to the real world, an engagement with storytelling that is very much in line with the overall aims of this collection.

And that, at its heart, is what Making Love With The Land is really about: what it means to tell stories, especially from the perspective of someone who's queer and Indigenous. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the art of language and communication, and essential reading for anyone seeking to understand more about queer and/or NDN experiences. Recommended.

Making Love With The Land by Joshua Whitehead was published November 15 2022 by Univ Of Minnesota Press and is available from all good booksellers, including <a href="https://bookshop.org/a/15382/9781517914479">Bookshop!</a>
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This collection was overall lovely as one would expect from Joshua Whitehead.  There were some reflections on the writing process, and the material conditions/embodied experiences of writing, that I found particularly poignant. I read parts of this as an ebook arc and parts of it as an audiobook, and I really do recommend the audio (read by the author).
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This collection of essays, a hybrid of personal reflections, social commentary, and academic musings, is a mixed bag of reading experiences. Some read like long rambling journal entries, others like confessions to a friend or prison warden.  And then many contained references to other authors, intelligentsia, or some secret salon participants.

His personal disclosures and raw reflections are frequently outright painful and reflect deep trauma and unresolved hurt. The social analyses are the most insightful and rewarding as they lay bare the systemic harm and a certain level of indifference or willful disregard.  However, the "academic and philosophical musings" can be painstakingly esoteric and illegible.  One essay will often be a combination of all three of the above.

I guessed this book is his PhD dissertation and, as a whole, projects as such. At the essay level, I think each piece is more impactful.  I'd recommend reading one essay at a time, perhaps two if you haven't been gutted or overwhelmed with "intellectual floof."  Whitehead already asserts an unapologetic stance on writing to please or coddle and that is admirable (I grasp that he is ambivalent about this position as he aches to be accepted or at least understand and/or seen somehow). When combined with or under the "dissertation" framework, the reading experience becomes a whirlwind with threads of logic or experiences wildly whipping in chaotic slaps.

I will admit that the use of the Oji-Cree language, after a certain point, got to be tiresome.  Again, Whitehead frames this as a right of authenticity (and rightly so).  And, as a reader, I felt it functioned as a speed bump, one with a smarting incline: the car struck a deep pothole.  Lasty, I also admit that I am and I do, at times, the very thing Whitehead critiques about Western culture or settler colonialism. 

I found many gorgeous passages (please see below) and it's here where it excels. He's poetic and evocatively pained and hurtful (and lashes out). I think, all in all, I prefer a structure of an overall story structure for his writing as it provides overarching scaffolding.

Thanks to the University of Minnesota Press for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Some quotes:

I dog-ear Ocean's page and make an animal story, I am looking for a wilderness in the act of being wild; I, here, a rez dog. I haven't seen you in a dog's age, by which I mean I haven't seen myself in ages.

Hand tightened around my collar, you bring yourself into me with the force of a bookbinder--even this assemblage of sound drips with violence and I am wet with black ink. When you are done, you promise me a home, in its largest connotations, and I reassemble done as doom, home being a torture chamber, a cage, kennel, the terrible weight of pounds....

...I know the night happened only by these signs: there are feathers in the carpet and a pillow with a concave, like a contact lens. I can never fully see if I'm the feather or the wool.

...I spend an ornate amount of time writing in bed, splayed on my stomach in the fevered hours of the evening or wee hours of the morning, stitching thoughts, images, affects, and conversations into a quilt of baroque textures. For me, the bedroom becomes a space ripe with possibility, a type of shard intimacy and vulnerability between myself and those I house like lovers spooned into vertebrate.

Perhaps, yes, fantasy and gaming ares coping mechanisms, but what I've come to learn through this mechanism is that pimatisowin, or the act of living, is about coming to and into an embodied world that acts much like a virtual one. We are always butting (and budding) up against the coping mechanisms of others: how they perform, their speech acts, how they respond to us, inquire about us, answer us, ignore us, treat us, respect us....

...What I need to survive, most of all right now, is for queerness to mean something more than consumption and hierarchical striving...

...I have long argued that the physical body we inhabit, in its zippered coat of skin, will always be tied to the body of text we create--and I think this particularly true for bipoc (Black, Indigenous, and peoples of colour), disabled, queer, and/or women (and any intersection therein) writers...

...Stories are oratory, even when written on the page, for they require animations in order to live--and such animations, in nehiyaw fashion, make story an animate being, living vocabulary, kind we are accountable to...

I have pinned myself to the concept of an otacimow, a storyteller, something that may sound simple in English but in nehiyawewin denotes in its root, otaci, that we are not only stories but also legend-speakers. Which is to say we are historians and cultural theorists, informers; which is also to say we are academics and researchers and confessors; which is also to say that we are journalists and poets. If autobiography within Western linguistic systems is an obituary, then in nehiyawewin itis a wildly engendered genre of returning and of revival; of transplanting the past into the future and glimmering in the hope of "now."

One of the perplexing things that interests me in the contemporary consumption of bipoc and queer writing is that our texts are readily misread as confession, non-fiction, memoir, boudoir.
I ate pain like a glutton. Even my mind felt heavy.

We, of course, as indigenous peoples, know that finality is simply an opening into ceremony.
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Before I share my impressions of Joshua Whitehead's new essay collection, Making Love with the Land, it is important to acknowledge the violence inherent in any attempt by a European settler to assess or evaluate an indigenous person's creative work—perhaps especially a work of personal storytelling. While my intention in reviewing books is primarily to share my experiences as a reader, to bring you into what is a fairly solitary activity and perhaps to provide you with a little more information about the book from my particular lens as you decide whether it might appeal to you, there is always some degree of judgement implied. The narrative voice of the book reviewer suggests authority, whether or not it is intended, and while this may be categorized as a simple “microaggression,” it is one of the many small acts that make up an ongoing genocide.

It thus feels important to clarify that I offer a review of this book with the intent of sharing my own experience of reading it, while also holding the awareness that I am a white person living as a settler on stolen land, one of the millions of people co-perpetrating an ongoing genocide as we continue to occupy Turtle Island, and as such I am incapable of fully understanding Whitehead's experiences. So much of this book is an expression of pain that I am not meant to grasp, written in a language that is not meant to reach me.

As Whitehead describes, there is a kind of violent voyeurism that the colonizer-reader always risks enacting through reading published Native stories, forced as they are into colonizing expectations of genre and category. In this book he writes of decolonizing genre and form, and I intend to show solidarity with that effort through taking the writing on its own terms, considering my impressions in many ways irrelevant. And yet, I share them here in the hopes that if you would not otherwise find this book, your interest may be piqued.

It is impossible for me to speculate on the value of such a raw, unapologetic accounting of personal truths for the Native reader, and especially for those who speak the Cree language or share other cultural context with Whitehead, an Oji-Cree/nehiyaw, Two-Spirit Indigiqueer author. What I can certainly appreciate, though, is the beauty of the language and the importance of Whitehead's intersectional perspective. Beyond a sort of intellectual acknowledgement of this importance, I was struck by how Whitehead's visceral use of language forces the reader to reckon with our own embodiment, pain, and isolation. At the same time, his words are deeply imbued with love, relationality, and a desire for repair and for connection to land, lineage, and other humans. The pain expressed so clearly here comes from a deeply passionate heart and a desire for rebirth in the midst of unfathomable destruction.

As a non-binary queer autistic person, I am a lover of language and also find myself constantly caught in its web, unable to express myself fully through spoken or written language and perhaps especially through the English language, insufficient as it is at times to convey realities beyond colonizing and capitalism. Whitehead's words find the space between binaries through deliberately breaking some of the conventions of language and form in order to decolonize them, grasping for possibility through a deft creative deployment of the written word. “Normal will have to be redefined,” he writes. “[G]rammar, that slick tool, that scaffold, will have to die and lilt into a new language.”

Whitehead resists the expectation of translation and scatters Cree words throughout the English text, at times without comment and at other times diving into the etymology and how use of the Cree language informs his worldview and that of his kin. And his words are often heart-wrenchingly beautiful and carry a somatic sense, for example: “Look at the tree of me and tell me there isn’t already a forest grasping for oxygen within me.”

Yet, I’m also forced to admit here that I did find portions of the book difficult to read, while simultaneously admiring the wordplay, as I'm a good decade and change removed from academia! Fans of postmodernism, poetics, and literature in general will likely have no trouble, and I'd exhort white literary critics, English professors, and publishers to pay close attention. Other portions of the book are self-referential, pointing to Whitehead’s previously published works, and while I’ve intended to read full-metal indigiqueer for a while now, I have not actually done so, and so I might have been more able to appreciate the commentary from the author on his own work with this context.

While the portions of essays directed at these previous works, as well as those concerned with the exploration of literature and language itself, were thus at times difficult for me to digest, the writing on embodiment, queer relationships, and the land hit much closer to home. I also love the way use of the Cree vernacular makes space for communication of concepts I understand in my heart, without having words in my own tongue for them. I’d recommend that those unfamiliar with the Cree language consider reading this book digitally, for ease of the tap-to-search function on these words. As you go, you’ll start to establish a working vocabulary, and the time spent to do so is certainly worth it (and, I think, integral to understanding the work).

Whitehead writes at length on his own pain both in the sense of physical embodiment and in the sense of ancestral / collective trauma in the face of colonization and planetary destruction. Stories of grief and loss and suicidal ideation wind with descriptions of the abject and visceral, with musings on how insomnia informs the author's work, with the traumas of disordered eating and body shaming. Whitehead adds a layer of meaning to these experiences as he describes himself as one who eats pain, metabolizing it through his own body as the land does through hers.

“That’s when I know that I am not the only one eating, that I am not singular in this widespread shared intimacy, that as I eat, so too does the land—that as I chew death, askîy spews life, askîy asahkêskiw. I am never alone in this momentous feasting. The land is eating pain too.” He further connects this act of digestion to storytelling, to human intimacy: “You can’t eat pain without also eating memory, and you can’t eat memory without eating story; to eat the self is to eat community is to eat those very ones you shield from the world.” In my own cultural context, I am struck by the kneejerk tendency to avoid the most triggering physical descriptions, to shy away from the rawness of language that brings me back to my own experiences of disordered eating, and made an effort to stay present in the language here as a practice of intimacy. White folks are so often taught to avoid discomfort, but being uncomfortable is a crucial and inseparable part of human relationship.

And of course this theme of pain also weaves into the context of the pandemic, into death and grief and the “slow, necrotic wilting of touch.” I needed this affirmation right now, given my own context of extreme lockdown, questioning whether it will ever end, but also acknowledging that interdependence was both a desire and something lacking for me far earlier than March 2020. “How insidiously genocidal, I ought to think, to be living within an unfolding of bio-organic death within a history of continual pandemics. What means lonely, what means isolation, when one has continually been deterred in this modality of being?” Whitehead also considers queer experiences with risk and how they affect our experience of the pandemic, asking “what does risk mean, when we risk ourselves too, in this isolation?”

While the depth of Whitehead’s pain dominates my impression of the collection, like many BIPOC writing of apocalypse Whitehead also grapples with possibility and futurity, particularly from an Indigiqueer perspective. He describes the intimacy of stolen moments with a lover during a pandemic visit, as well as the refusal to be categorized in the process of a relationship transition—something I expect many queer readers will find achingly relatable. Much of Whitehead's writing on queerness in this volume engages with a sex-driven racist gay male bar culture I was futilely hoping might be on the way out by now, including an account of an assault, but these more hopeful stories remind the reader of queer resilience even in the midst of utter destruction.

I found it important, also, that this collection explores relationship in a number of ways, all of which could be, I think, considered queer. It’s not only about sexuality and romance but also about the magic and play and heartache of relationship with land, with river and sky, with non-human animals, with human kin, with the author’s Native friends and colleagues. This interweaving of relationship seems crucial, and while I am hesitant to oversimplify into a caricature of Native connectedness—the narrative also being full of examples of disconnection and rejection—I did find this approach to be quite different from other queer narratives focusing very heavily on romantic relationship and sexual longing.

Whitehead's play with language includes the recurrence of an undefined "you," called out directly early on. At times he addresses a person (whether human, animal, or elemental) by name, but often the subject of the sentence is ambiguous, shifting without guiding the reader into keeping up. There’s a sense of privacy retained, in a work that directly grapples with the voyeurism of the colonizer-reader, but also a sense that “you” may in fact contain many possibilities at once.

In one particularly powerful passage, for example, Whitehead replaces all instances of "I" and "you" with Cree equivalents, written in Cree syllabics, which both has a particular visual impact and an altered sense of meaning. Many other words in this passage are also written in Cree, with an English parenthetical offered in the first instance, so that by the time you reach the end of the essay you can recognize a good ten or so words. (This approach contrasting with most of the other essays, where Cree words are written in the English alphabet but left to the reader to look up.)

What this emphasis on pronoun brought up for me was a reminder of the beauty and complexity of relation, but also a reminder that pronoun considerations (even queer pronoun considerations) aren't only about the third person. What do we presume about "you" in a work of non-fiction? Is the "you" queer? A person of color? A Native person? Is “you” the reader, or an unnamed figure in the author's life—perhaps a grandmother, a child, a lover, a spirit? What intimacies might be shared with a particular "you," but not a general audience? What intimacies do we presume access to, or even a right to, by virtue of seeing ourselves as the intended recipient of an author's words, by virtue of the fact of publication? Even beyond this specific work, the questions this emphasis raises have considerable applicability in a world where so many of us broadcast our opinions and our pain online to an unknown, unnamed, uncertain and always shifting audience without the benefit of relationship and established trust.

And yet there is also hope contained within this ambiguity of “you,” the possibility of intimacy if we open our eyes and circle back to the truth of relation, of care, of kin. “I speak here of a wish for radical change and rhizomes of care—out of a sense of global care but also, for once, out of selfishness too. I think the world of this pronoun ‘you’—so here I’ll build a world from a pronoun, and balloon it into wishes. I place a kiss into the wind in the hope it finds you when you need love.” I felt this passage in my bones.
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Thank you University of Minnesota Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review will be posted on my StoryGraph account only. I will not be posting on my TikTok account (please see below). I am posting this review on 11/13/22.  

Mixed feelings

Creative nonfiction - the creative portion really brought life, color, personality, & a distinct voice to the writing

Own voice indigiqueer & Two-Spirit rep

Essays are short and digestible - my favorite essay was “I Own a Body That Wants to Break,” which focused on mental health and eating disorders

Meta references to writing this work - experiencing the essays feels more personal - feelings of disclosure & trust strengthen the parasocial relationship 

MAJOR ISSUE - the ending implies that the pandemic is over. Today is 11/13/22; COVID-19 cases are spiking & the medical system is overloaded in the wake of superspreader events (ppl voting at public polls without masking). The CDC has expanded the public health crisis (despite their lack of mask mandating). Publishing this essay with the implied propaganda that the COVID-19 pandemic is over would be a major mistake & would especially harm ppl that belong to intersectional minorities (the literal audience of this book). I cannot in good conscience post about this book on my social media account.

https://app.thestorygraph.com/reviews/4b859e0e-a95c-484a-8166-af53db6e958a
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This book is so far above and beyond me in both subject and craft that I'm giving it five stars purely on faith. I made it through 1.5 essays before realizing that I was basically trying to  jump off the high dive when my familiarity with Native literature is only at a doggie-paddle level. One day I hope to return to Whitehead's essays and try again, next time with more experience under my belt!
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Joshua Whitehead has so many important, poignant things to say about culture, gender, sexuality, and identity and does so with a lurid mixture of grit and beauty.
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“Making Love with the Land” a memoir by Joshua Whitehead, has the type of poetic prose that is best absorbed as it washes over you.* As with all memoirs, this is personal and unique to the author, and often times you may not be able to fully grasp the concepts he is unfurling, but you will feel your mind and soul come alive as it happens. I love Joshua Whitehead and so wholly enjoyed his novel, “Jonny Appleseed” when I read it a couple of years ago. Hearing from the author, on his writing process, even in regards to that novel, is such a gift. 

This memoir focuses a lot on writing and the writing process specific to Joshua Whitehead. But it’s also full of musings on identity oh his people, his own identity and the layers to it, queerness, art, nature, dreams and how all of these things are connected to one another. I’ll never do justice to the ways in which he brings everything back into the circle of oneness, but his insights and vulnerabilities encourage you to listen harder, think deeper and ponder on the ways you view the world. 

This collection of essays is full of love. The kind of love that recognizes a suffering in the world and aches to remedy it. The kind of love that recognizes the loss and grief and evil in the world. It’s also full of pain. There are instances of sexual assault, death and political unrest. I find his inherent empathy and frustration to be familiar but so completely unique. The essays are heartbreaking and beautiful. I love that he tackles issues in publishing and the categorization of books, that often indigenous works will be classified as folk or magical realism when it is their reality, their culture, their history. He looks at the complexities of language and meaning, and how there is a lens created by colonization that obliterates otherness. Who defines us? Who defines anyone? Who matters? Who’s pain is real?

* I especially recommend this to people who connect to and love the work of Ocean Vuong.

+ Thank you to NetGalley for access to this title!
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Open your heart to lyrical, candid, alchemical prose from this wise Oji-nêhiyaw, Two-Spirit member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1 - Canada). Joshua Whitehead reflects on his life experiences and the writing of his earlier coming-of-age tale Jonny Appleseed and Full-metal Indigiqueer: Poems with genre-defying, thought-provoking, and vulnerable reveals on mental health. Gratitude to the author, University of Minnesota Press, and NetGalley for early access to this work!
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This is a gorgeous, heartbreaking and awe-inspiring book. At this point, this level of lyrical craft is what I've come to expect with anything written by Joshua Whitehead, but this book certainly doesn't disappoint.
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Loved this book! Joshua Whitehead is a gorgeous writer and incorporates beautiful prose with theory analysis of indigenous erasure, mental health, and many other topics.
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I finished reading this book and felt like I don’t deserve it. Whitehead’s essays are like a window into his mind, and I don’t know what I did to earn his trust so that I can have a Iook, but I will be forever grateful for the inspiration, lessons learned, and understanding of humanity I have gained from reading Making Love with the Land. 

I realized recently that I know next to nothing about Indigenous culture. There’s no excuse for it. Up until now, I have chosen to live inside a box, where my worldview is limited to the things I grew up knowing. I want to learn more now, and books have always been my starting point when it comes to learning something new. I encourage anyone who wants to begin deconstructing the narratives they have been told surrounding indigenity and humanity to read Making Love with the Land and to let Whitehead’s words soak in. These essays are alive, and they want to show you things we should have known all along.
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This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it absolutely exceeded my expectations. Whitehead does incredible work with language, both Indigenous and English. The content is touching, heartbreaking, honest, hopeful. It reminds me of the hardest parts of being human, which are so often also the best. Whitehead discusses queerness, being Indigenous, his family and grief, breaking up, disordered eating, place and faith, nature, and so many other topics, effortlessly woven together in these essays.

I read this while staying on the prairie in Montana, and I am so grateful I could read this while there. The setting of prairie Canada in the book just made for a truly magical reading experience.

I will be buying a hard copy and telling everyone I know to read this one. Thank you to the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I highly recommend this vivid and evocative exploration of queerness, indigeneity, identity, and environment by one of the most compelling two-spirit authors publishing today. The prose is poetic and pulls the reader along with it in waves. This book feels both like an incredible healing project for a queer, indigenous audience and a wonderful educational tool for writing and thinking about both of those things.
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WOW! This was absolutely stunning and beautifully written. I didn't really know what I was in for, but it was such a striking read. I highly recommend it to everyone. Whitehead's prose is gorgeous and affecting and evocative, leaving me breathless and teary at times. Will definitely be purchasing copies for the library!
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A collection of beautifully worded essays explores indigeneity, queerness, body positivity in the wake of eating disorders, grief and mourning, and how these intersect. Whitehead has brilliant prose-- the simile "apocalypses as ellipses" literally had me stopped dead in my tracks. I had to pause to appreciate it. I experienced something similar later when he said "I must remember that a story can be eaten like a body." This was stunning. As someone interested in linguistics, I appreciated his exploration into how language can be both oppressive and freeing. I also loved the use of Oji-Cree vocabulary, it really seemed like adornment on already perfect sentences. While this took me a while to get through despite its relative shortness, I really did end up enjoying this.
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I don't think you read this book, you experience it! Whitehead's lyrical prose generate images, emotions and physical sensations. The intimacy of his prose is exquisite. How can you read a sentence like "I bathe in your language; I dry myself off in the shelter of your sunburnt lashes" and not be moved? I was not familiar with any of his other work when I came to this book. After finishing, I want to read everything else he has authored. Each chapter a themed essay, he languages the experience and intersections of being  both queer and indigenous, while simultaneously showing you why language can be an inferior and oppressive tool. He has the singular ability to wrap language around physical sensations in a way I have not seen. I read this book slowly, a little at a time so that I could soak it in the experience. I have made a note to listen to the audiobook when it is released. There are so many Oji-Cree phrases in the book that I think hearing them spoken would be lovely and add to the experience. 

Thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
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In 'Making Love with the Land', Whitehead draws us into himself. The acute intimacy this fosters punctures all pronouns, from the elusive "I" to the boundless "you". Soon, the former transforms into the more elusive "we", leading to a burst of image and feeling so fierce that it seems almost involuntary. Meanwhile, beneath his exquisite prose and scenes of lulling destruction, Whitehead's ruminations carve notches into bones.

The first essay is somewhat reminiscent of Billy-Ray Belcourt's 'A History of My Brief Body', in that it hints at a controlled dislocation of the psyche; one that results from its capacity to hold - and crave - more than the self. The elaborate language with which Whitehead handles others' fictions about himself also points to a deeper convolution than the one enacted on the page. And while the prose may come across as uncomfortable in its own skin at times, this nurtured stiffness is an ache that is meant to first delineate, then outlast the body.

In a similar fashion, English is unmasked as a choreography of painfully stilted movements. By mixing its clunky step with Cree terms, Whitehead allows the reader to experience some of the distress that comes from being engulfed by the Other, or - as is perhaps more accurate in the case of many of his recollections  - another. Making love, then, becomes a way of blending with all that we consume and eventually regress to; an interchange that takes us out of ourselves, grinding atoms in pursuit of that silent implosion.

To achieve this, Whitehead plays around with narration and the many voices it assumes. He asks, "Who is the you, who is the one substituting both the you and the I?" By rubbing the flank that separates one from many, he shows how a voice can endure the collapse of a body, how consciousness finds its impression in the "you", in which he lives; the one he delights in, and which triumphs over him.

The body is in a constant state of lovemaking with the world, forever in the throes of the atomic coupling that allows it to persist: "…so that when I defecate I originate - I give back to those who gave to me. The belly is a world-maker, is a Fourth world, is my ancestral grounds." While self-effacing, this view is also deeply adoring of its originator. This sentiment proves vital when Whitehead later points to the underpinning of his destructive relationship with his body.

The essays are lined with countless layers of quiet contemplation as well. Most memorably, during the process of unsticking labels and language from his skin, Whitehead reflects on the creative process, which animates literature to the point of cultivating new life. The person that is stitched together from private words and inner worlds is likewise granted a body that can be experienced: "I must remember that a story can be eaten like a body."

With mentions of BIPOC trauma and grief rightfully charting the course of a shared existence, Whitehead constructs whole orbits, which bring us closer to the formation of thought, the contemplation of beauty, the flirtation with self-destruction, the devastation of desire, and the stunting of deed. While subsisting on universal states of being, the act of functioning as a cell in a persevering body exhausts the personal. This "fluidity of being" is endless, and as malleable as language proves limited.

For example, one of the essays is a love letter composed entirely from the bones of heartache. By looking back at a formerly romantic relationship, Whitehead conveys the eager fluidity of all things, from emotion to relation. It's a poignant account that indicates how sorrow is entrenched in life. To love is to be is to wither. And yet, like all his words, the sum of the author's thoughts points to persistence, perhaps even hope. 

Fellow fans of 'Jonny Appleseed' will also rejoice in the behind-the-scenes peek at the character's conception, which, like all bodied people, yields both pleasure and anguish. There's something intensely voyeuristic about consuming another's pain, but Whitehead accepts this unavoidable intimacy with a weary shrug. After all, he understands the impulsivity of the act like no one else. We are all drenched in each other's immediacy.

With 'Making Love with the Land' being largely an academic work, it's no surprise that he sets out to draw the scholarly world into the realm of experience. In doing so, he forces thought to find its physical embodiment. As a result, the author seems more exposed than ever before, but this nakedness is intangible. His vulnerability is a tear, through which we glimpse more layers of membrane; a fact that makes his work so restorative.

These layers change hues, bristle, and grow sensitive to the touch. And as Whitehead holds our hand to the most tender spots of his intellect, we reach a facsimile of familiarity. In many ways, it's only ever as powerful as the parable it feeds, and we are rarely truly intimate with our urges. With that being said, we come as close to becoming one as possible through the process of devouring the book's body. And though he may fear having given too much of himself, as all writers of his caliber do, Joshua Whitehead is an author that will be forever revered for the myths he awakens.
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I got the chance to read an advanced reader copy of the upcoming non-fiction work by Joshua Whitehead (thanks, NetGalley!). The book, titled Making Love with the Land, is comprised of essays of a variety of types, musing on Indigeneity and his writing process. 


The book demands attention. Whitehead uses Indigenous language throughout, without definition, in a Indigenizing move that is reminiscent of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, the Kenyan writer who has long insisted on retaining Gikuyu language in his translated works. Like him, Whitehead leaves the English-speaking reader to confront their own discomfort with the unknown language. We are left with the sense that this writing is not for us, in the way that the vast majority of English-language works are, and that we are honored to be given what glimpses into Whitehead’s world that we can decipher. Even his use of the English language is designed to baffle, filled with obscure vocabulary and double entendres. Nothing in this book is expressed simply – everything must be decoded through careful analysis. 


The themes in this book oscillate gracefully. Whitehead reflects on the way Indigenous culture and narrative is understood by outsiders and how he has interpreted it in his own work as an author, reflecting on his previous best-seller, Johnny Appleseed, as well as his book of poetry, Full-Metal Indigiqueer. Through his reflections on these works, Whitehead also reflects on his positionality as a queer author, and on the intersection of Indigeneity and queer identity. Overall, this is a thought-provoking book for those who have the dedication to sort through it.
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Although I’ve heard of Joshua Whitehead and his published works before, this is actually my first opportunity to read any of his writing. I admit that there were times where I couldn’t follow along due to my own personal context as a reader who’s non-indigenous, white, heterosexual, amongst other differences. However, even when I found myself a bit lost, I was still more than happy to take in the beauty of his writing. Even more appreciated was his willingness to be so honest, open, and vulnerable in this collection of essays as he touches upon a variety of subjects ranging from his own personal writing to matters of his identity as a Two-spirit. These essays felt intimately immersive in a way rarely felt when reading the musings of others. 

I look forward to exploring his poetry and fiction in the near-future, for clearly I have been missing out on quite a lot.
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