Author Angeline Boulley Reads on Campus

Angeline Boulley, author of Firekeeper’s Daughter, the breakout, bestselling young adult novel, came to campus this spring as a Lola Austin Case Writer-in-Residence. Boulley met with students and faculty, talked about the craft of writing with Creative Writing majors and minors, and gave a major reading from Firekeeper’s Daughter at the Western Art Gallery.

The themes of Boulley’s work are grounded in her experience growing up as a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan. Her father was a “firekeeper,” starting and tending scared fires for tribal ceremonies, and as she grew up she was immersed in the living traditions of her people. Boullley did not initially pursue a life in art. Instead, after getting her college education at the university of Michigan, she devoted herself to native issues and public policy, ultimately becoming the Director for the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education. However, her experiences growing up in Sault Ste. Marie were always on her mind, and she began to write drafts of what would become Firekeeper’s Daughter when she was forty-four years old, and she then worked on developing and revising the book for ten more years. She jokes about her recently found literary fame, saying “I’m a thirty-seven year overnight success!”

Boulley explained that the pitch for Firekeeper’s Daughter was someting like “Nancy Drew meets 21 Jump Street,” and while that nicely captures the YA narrative elements that structure the book, Boulley uses those elements to write a deeply textured novel that captures the contemporary experience of the Chippewa living in Michigan. The narrative follows eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine as she is caught between her first year in college, her place in her family, and her unexpected role as an FBI informant. Facing these competing demands and allegiances, Daunis much make difficult choices as she defines for herself who she is and what she believes. Higher Ground productions, the Obama company, has acquired the rights to the book and it is currently being adapted into a Netflix series.

In her craft talk, Boulley emphasized the practice of writing, explaining how she began her first novel while she was still working full time in Washington D.C. and she could only find the quiet time to write by getting up an hour before her children were awake. Throughout, she emphasized writing, revising, and the necessity of believing in the story.

At her Art Gallery reading, Boulley wowed the crowd, speaking for a full hour in an unconventional form that she invented. While she would read a few pages from her novel, she would then explain how the concerns of the book emerged from her own life experiences. She explained that just as she was starting college, an young, undercover police officer had come to her high school as part of a investigation, and, “I thought, ‘what if,” and the outlines of the novel started to come to me.”

Boulley is at work on a new novel, Warrior Girl Unearthed, which she pitches as “Lara Croft, but instead she is a young native woman raiding museums and returning sacred objects to their tribes.” The audience was fascinated by her descriptions of how she uses a four act structure and the complex outlines she developed to compose the book.

Boulley was generous, meeting with students in the Creative Writing major option, faculty, and community members, and the department hopes to welcome her back to campus in the future.