A Writer Profile: Dr. Norma Dunning
Dr. Norma Dunning is an Inuk writer as well as a scholar, researcher, professor and grandmother. Her short story collection Tainna: The Unseen Ones won the 2021 Governor General’s Award for literature, and her previous short story collection, Annie Muktuk and Other Stories (University of Alberta Press, 2017), received the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, the Howard O’Hagan Award for short stories and the Bronze Foreword INDIES Award for short stories. She is also the author of Eskimo Pie (Bookland Press, 2020), a collection of poetry and an Alberta bestseller. She lives in Edmonton, AB.
Tainnna: The Unseen Ones is a powerful collection of short stories that illuminates and gives voice to the Inuit experience in the Canadian South. Drawing on both lived experience and cultural memory, Dunning brings together modern-day Inuk characters united in their shared feelings of alienation, displacement and loneliness resulting from their experiences in southern Canada.
We warmly welcome Dr. Norma Dunning to this space.
Where writers write.
"I am always writing something and when we love something we do we will carve out time."
Describe your writing space.
I’m not madly in love with my writing space – it is windowless and I leave my chair on a 20 min rotation to look out from my balcony onto busy 101 Ave where the normal people are driving or walking or jogging and wondering what to cook for dinner while I think about how to rewrite a sentence that I’ve already rewritten 100 times.
How important is it to have ‘a room of one’s own’?
I think a dedicated space can add to the discipline required for writing. It’s your space with the pics and things around you that are important and should be a place of comfort.
What pictures do you have displayed in this space?
I have a large picture of my youngest son taken when he was 25 years old because he thought that after 25 everyone’s faces start to wrinkle and slide sideways and you’ll never be beautiful again after age 25.
I have pics of my grandson Joel who I adore and often look at when I’m stuck mid-sentence as if he at the age of seven can finish a sentence for me.
What is your writing process like?
I don’t have a writing process that is written in cement or anything else. I write when I can and often will find myself getting up at 2 am to write because I’m getting sick to death of laying in bed thinking about what it is I am writing.
"I like the high of knowing you’ve nailed it! "
Whatever ‘it’ is at the time. I like knowing that I’ve written that sentence as well as I could and the feeling of ‘nailed it!’ is better than the best meal, the best pair of shoes, the best anything in my life no matter how tragically sad or euphoric the sentence is.
Success for me is only ever the same thing: the “I Nailed It!” sentence.
Favourite time of day to write? How many hours a day or words-per-day do you write?
Early morning or after 3 pm – I don’t dedicate a specific amount of time because I work at least two jobs all the time.
What is your most unusual writing quirk?
Feeling restless and then spending far too much on YouTube listening to how different bands covered each other’s music. YouTube is my happiest escape.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I want each of my books to stand on its own because when I write each sentence, each sentence must stand on its own.
"That’s my approach to writing over all – Every Sentence Must Stand."
Why do you write? What do you love about writing?
For me writing is a never-ending sickness, it’s a disease that I have that is without a cure.
For me, true writers are the people who firstly, never start a conversation by saying, “Hi, I’m a writer” or even admit to being a writer and secondly never tell anyone what they are currently writing and are the people who never bitch or grumble because they have four storyboards going, and a publisher up their ass and OMG I’m so burdened! and thirdly and most importantly true writers are the people who never brag, who never rattle on about all the publications that they have or the awards they’ve received.
True writers are those who write with quiet dignity and are selfless.
What can books teach us? How do they change us?
Books give us a new world or a world that we can be a part of that we may not be able to be a part of in our real lives. Books make us laugh and give us hope and make us dream and believe in humanity.
What were your favourite childhood books?
I loved the books about the Bobbsey Twins. I wanted to go live with them and I wanted to know where they lived because I thought they could easily adopt me and we could just go in live in the happily ever after.
Who are your favourite writers?
Marilyn Dunmont – poetry
Richard Wagamese – everything else
What books did you read over the past two years that helped you through the pandemic?
I re-read the Jann Karon series, and I re-watched all seven seasons of the Gilmore Girls at least three times each, remember NetFlix is the cocaine of the older woman.
Dr. Norma Dunning's newest work of non-fiction, Kinauvit?: What's Your Name? The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter's Search for her Grandmother, releases October 29th, 2022. Her second collection of poetry, Akia (the other side), will be published in spring of 2023. Dunning's books, including Tainna: The Unseen Ones, are available at fine independent bookstores near you, including Curiosity House Books. She is published by Douglas & McIntyre.