Written by Harold R. Johnson
I open my eyes in the darkness, laying on my side, half my vision is of the earth and shadows; the other is of the sky, treetops, and stars. I should write Clifford’s story. The thought emerges fully formed . . . The thought dissipates. I close my eyes and the earth and the sky disappear. The warmth of my sleeping bag wraps around me and sleep pulls me under into that half-world where reality and fantasy mingle in a place where coherent thoughts disintegrate.
When Harold Johnson returns to his childhood home in a northern Saskatchewan Indigenous community for his brother Clifford’s funeral, the first thing his eyes fall on is a chair. It stands on three legs, the fourth broken off and missing. So begins a journey through the past, a retrieval of recollections that have too long sat dormant. Moving from the old family home to the log cabin, the garden, and finally settling deep in the forest surrounding the property, his mind circles back, shifting in time and space, weaving in and out of memories of his silent, powerful Swedish father; his formidable Cree mother, an expert trapper and a source of great strength; and his brother Clifford, a precocious young boy who is drawn to the mysterious workings of the universe.
As the night unfolds, memories of Clifford surface in Harold’s mind’s eye: teaching his younger brother how to tie his shoelaces; jousting on a bicycle without rubber wheels; building a motorcycle. Memory, fiction, and fantasy collide, and Clifford comes to life as the scientist he was meant to be, culminating in his discovery of the Grand Unified Theory.
Exquisitely crafted, funny, visionary, and wholly moving, Clifford is an extraordinary work for the way it defies strict category and embraces myriad forms of storytelling. To read it is to be immersed in a home, a family, a community, the wider world, the entire cosmos.
Harold R. Johnson
HAROLD R. JOHNSON is the author of five works of fiction and two works of nonfiction. His most recent book, Firewater: How Alcohol Is Killing My People (and Yours), was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction. Born and raised in northern Saskatchewan to a Swedish father and a Cree mother, he is a graduate of Harvard Law School and managed a private practice for several years before becoming a Crown prosecutor. Johnson is a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation and lives in the north end of Saskatchewan, with his wife, Joan.
Praise for Harold Johnson and Firewater:
FINALIST, 2016 GOVERNOR GENERAL’S LITERARY AWARD FOR NONFICTION
“The book should be a bible in the fight for survival and recovery, for a better life for coming generations, and it should somehow be made available to band councils and urban community and friendship centres.” — First Nations Drum
“Johnson pointedly confronts the toll taken by alcohol . . . Written in the style of a kitchen-table conversation, Johnson’s personal anecdotes and perceptive analysis are a call to return to a traditional culture of sobriety. . . . [a] well-argued case.” — Publishers Weekly
“This is an extraordinary memoir by a Cree writer who understands the damage alcohol does when used to kill the pain caused by white Canadians stealing and torturing Indigenous children throughout this nation’s history. I know many white alcoholics but it’s always ‘the drunk Indian.’ Why? Firewater is a great book; it burns in the hand.” — Toronto Star
Praise for Harold Johnson and Corvus:
FINALIST, 2016 SASKATCHEWAN BOOK AWARDS ABORIGINAL PEOPLES’ WRITING AWARD
“Johnson’s done some solid thinking about a world killing itself with its intellect while it denies its heart and soul in favour of more luxury goods” — Saskatoon Star Phoenix
“Corvus pushes back . . . playing with the space between the real and the imagined, the organic and the alive, the human and the animal.” — The Bull Calf Review
“An impassioned, formally innovative twist on the dystopian genre.” — Globe and Mail
“Johnson fortifies the place of Indigenous peoples in his frightening dystopia, offering up Cree ways of knowing as key to the hyper-technological aspirations of continental North America. For that, Corvus is an important intervention into climate-based, futuristic sci-fi.” — The Malahat Review