The Author Spotlight Series shines a light on writers creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their books and why they do what they do.
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“Willie Poll is a proud Metis author from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who who has spent the last ten years working in Indigenous education. She is very passionate about supporting Indigenous youth to reach their dreams and reclaim their power. Together We Drum, Our Hearts Beat as One is her first book”.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Oh gosh, I’ve always wanted to be a writer! We have school assignments from when I was 6 and 7 years old that talk about how one day I will be an author! There was a teacher I had in grade 4, Dr. McIntyre, but she was really inspiring and was able to bring writing to life for me. She was the most supportive teacher I’ve ever had and it made all the difference!
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
I don’t remember the first thing I wrote, but I do remember my favourites! I won 3rd place in an anti racism poetry contest when I was in grade 4 and I remember feeling SO proud that something I wrote had been noticed! I wasn’t really into sports until later in life and I often felt a little left out as my friends all had heaps of ribbons and trophies, and so it was just really meaningful to me to be recognized! My mom was a huge supporter and my grandma as well, they would always tell me that one day I would be an author, but that dream sort of faded as I got older and more and more people would tell me that you can’t make a living in the arts.
How did you develop your skills?
I didn’t really! Most of my writing has all been academic, but poetry and writing in rhyme was always really natural to me. I wish I had some answer as to how to develop your skills but honestly it is just about sitting down and making the time to write! I have some stories that I wrote and it felt right immediately and I have some that I wrote and rewrote a million times before it felt good enough! I think the best thing to do is to make the time and keep at it! I feel like there is very little external gratification in writing, especially at first, and so you really have to love it to keep doing it!
Who are some of your biggest literary influences? Do you have a favourite book/author?
Absolutely! I adore Tasha Spillet-Sumner. Their childrens books are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read and they evoke so much emotion. “I sang you down from the stars” always brings me to tears and I aspire to be the kind of writer that can emotionally move people. Often children’s books can be overlooked but they are the most powerful books I’ve read! I really admire all the Indigenous authors taking up space, it’s been incredible to see the shift – when I go into a book store now many of the best sellers and books at the forefront are BIPOC and I am loving that!
How would you describe your work?
That’s such a tough question! I feel like so many artists and authors are so critical of their work that it’s really challenging to speak about it and often we are too humble! I feel like I want my work to be powerful and inspire people to make change. I want to approach big topics in a gentle way that plants seeds for a better future, and I think I’m accomplishing that! I would describe my work as love letters to all the Indigenous youth I’ve met who are in a world that needs to do better for them.
What’s your writing process like?
My writing process varies! Many days I sit down and it can take an hour to write one line. I can’t seem to force creativity, but on days where I’m feeling it, I can often write and write and write. Once I have an idea and the first few sentences it just flows! I always keep lots of snacks near me, my office door closed, and make sure everyone knows not to interrupt the creative space!
Tell us about your most recent book.
Together we drum, our hearts beat as one was inspired by my life long journey working with Indigenous youth and seeing the effects of the MMIWG2+ crisis. Many events and experiences led to the story, but the final one so to speak was my first drive down the highway of tears. I sat beside a young visibly Indigenous woman as we drove, passing sign after sign of missing girls with no answers. Shortly after I had a dream and when I woke up I just started to write and this was the product. I loved it so much I just wanted to share it with the world! I was able to work with Chief Lady Bird who brought the story to life in such a beautiful, powerful, yet gentle way, and I am so grateful for her. It has been an incredible journey!
What are you working on now/next?
My second book Minnow; the girl who was part fish comes out in May! It’s about a young water protector who learns some of the atrocities happening below the surface. She rejoins her community and knows they have to take a stand. I’m really excited about it and I consider it my love letter to all the Indigneous folks on the front lines fighting for a better future for all of us!