How to Write the Story of Your Life

Some advice from outside the white male literary canon

Terese Mailhot
Gay Mag
Published in
15 min readApr 7, 2020

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Credit: Vectorig/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

1. You don’t need to be “educated” to write.

II did not read the white literary canon. My mother dragged me out of the classroom the day we were supposed to read Huckleberry Finn. She said I didn’t need to read that word two-hundred times to know it was wrong — to know white people were wrong throughout history.

“There are other books,” she said.

I remember her face and the freedom in it as we drove away. Mom had run away from residential school when she was about the same age. The same bravery she showed when she ran away from the nuns and priests was the same bravery she took to my teachers when she talked about race — when she talked about history. I used to be ashamed of it and that’s my burden now.

Class used to feel safe before she got me thinking. The place was decorated with rainbow paper weaving, pastoral drawings, and our first attempts at depth and realism — drawings with happy, smiling faces. It was the home of the VERY GOOD and SUPER STAR stickers. It was a place filled with remarkable growth and simplicity, and then it shifted. I became conscious of my difference as an Indigenous girl.

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Terese Mailhot
Gay Mag

New York Times Bestselling author of HEART BERRIES: A MEMOIR. Work in Pacific Standard, Elle, Longreads, Guernica, LA Times, and elsewhere.