Dunning’s new collection explores alienation, displacement and the loneliness of living in the south

Thursday, April 8th, 2021 2:54pm


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Tainna: The Unseen Ones, Short Stories with author Norma Dunning


“Norma has this ability to drag you into a story; drag you across a number of diversions…” — editor Peter Midgley
By Adam Laskaris
Windspeaker.com Contributor

Author Norma Dunning has officially launched her latest work, a collection of six tales under the title Tainna: The Unseen Ones, Short Stories.

The virtual launch was held Wednesday evening, April 7, hosted by Edmonton independent bookstore Audrey’s Books with the book’s editor Peter Midgley. Dunning shared a few passages from the collection, with characters described as “ranging from homeless to extravagantly wealthy, from spiritual to jaded, young to elderly, and even from alive to deceased.” These characters are “united by shared feelings of alienation, displacement and loneliness resulting from their experiences in southern Canada,” the description continues.

“Norma has this ability to drag you into a story; drag you across a number of diversions, but always coming back to the main story,” Midgley said following one of Dunning’s readings.

Midgley and Dunning discussed what went into writing the book, from her characters to the real-world examples of Indigenous life that inspired the collection.

Each of the six short stories in the book (pronounced “Da‑e‑nn‑a”) range from 17 to 35 pages in length and are filled with “compelling characters who discover themselves in a hostile land where prejudice, misogyny and inequity are most often found hidden in plain sight.” Each story is centred on Inuk characters in a modern context based on Dunning’s own experiences, as well as “cultural memory”.

Tainna follows Dunning’s 2017 work: Annie Muktuk and Other Stories, a 16-chapter collection, and her 2020 Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity, an autobiographical work that encompasses poetry as well as stories.

Born in Quebec to an Inuk family, Dunning currently works at the University of Alberta as an instructor. Dunning began her university studies in 2009 at the age of 50, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Native Studies with an Aboriginal Self-Governance Certification. She completed her PhD in 2019.

“This book is dedicated to all of us Inuit who live beyond the tundra, we who get up and live our lives in the Southern areas of Canada,” Tainna’s dedication reads.

In addition to sharing details of her latest work, Dunning closed off the hour-long launch with tips for budding authors.

“A lot of people worry too much about following the arc of a story and how we've been taught how to create a story,” Dunning said. “But however it falls onto the page is how it’s supposed to be.

Dunning emphasized the importance of daily writing to help get creative juices flowing.

“Pick a time every day to just write,” she said, “Even if it's only four minutes.”

Much of Tainna’s content deals with dark themes — loss, death, and grieving, to name a few, but she pointed out that these topics are something she’s very committed to exploring.

“If we don't have emotional investment in our work…  If we don't have it deep inside of us, then don't write it,” Dunning said.

Dunning also admits that her writing process can take a toll on her own mental and physical health.

“I write, then I vomit, then I go for a walk,” she said, emphasizing this was not a hyperbolic statement but a common occurrence. “When I write sadness, I have to have a cry and go for a walk. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t … go for a walk.”

Tainna is now available via the Audrey’s Books website and at most major retailers.