U of G professor to give Massey Lectures
One thing Northrop Frye, Martin Luther King, Doris Lessing, Noam Chomsky and Ursula Franklin have in common is that they've each delivered Canada's Massey Lectures. On Nov. 5, U of G English professor Thomas King will join this distinguished group when he presents the first lecture in a series of five lectures that will take place over nine days in five provinces. Titled "The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative," the series will be recorded and broadcast on the CBC radio show Ideas, sold as a set of five CDs and published in a book of the same name.
Although King said he was extremely honoured to be asked to present the 2003 Massey Lectures, a Canadian literary tradition since 1961, he's also "petrified." Not only is he afraid of flying – which will make the trips to lecture locations in Montreal, St. John's, Victoria, Calgary and Toronto somewhat gruelling – he says he's also not a very public person.
Anyone familiar with King's work would be surprised to learn he's not comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd. He created and starred in the popular CBC radio show Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour and is a renowned novelist whose books have been published in several languages and shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and Commonwealth Writers Prize. Green Grass, Running Water was taught in more undergraduate Canadian literature courses than any other work in 2001, and Medicine River was made into a 1997 feature film starring Graham Greene.
Although he's obviously earned his invitation to give the Massey Lectures, King thinks his strong point is different than that of his predecessors: "I don't think of myself as a public intellectual; I think of myself as a storyteller."
He took a year and a half to complete the lectures, a process he says was "fun in an excruciating way." In keeping with his strengths as a storyteller, he uses personal anecdotes, autobiographical experiences, and academic research in the lectures to explore how culture and social circumstances in North America have been crafted. King, who was born of a Cherokee father and a mother of Greek and German descent, said he focuses mainly on Native concerns in an attempt to explain the dichotomies that are found at the heart of society and culture.
Each lecture explores a theme of the native experience. Through a comparison of native and Christian Creation stories, the first talk examines the inherent differences in the ways native and non-native westerners perceive the world. "If you want to know something about a culture, knowing their creation story is a great help," said King. Subsequent lectures explore native history, literature, politics, popular culture and social protest.
He said writing the lectures allowed him to talk about things that annoy him, from Canadian and American laws that can make aboriginals legally extinct with status and non-status classing systems, to companies and sports teams that make money from native stereotypes.
The cover of the Massey Lectures book features a photograph that King took to illustrate these common stereotypes. "It's a montage of Indian materials. If you look at North American culture, there are all sorts of things that use Indian iconography, such as Indian Motorcycle Club, Indian Spirit Tobacco, Chicago Black Hawks, Cleveland Indians, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor."
For more information, visit the CBC website www.cbc.ca/ideas/massey.html.
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.