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A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
Cover of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTIONNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL • CBC • CHATELAINE • QUILL...
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTIONNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL • CBC • CHATELAINE • QUILL...
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  • #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
    SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL • CBC • CHATELAINEQUILL & QUIRETHE HILL TIMESPOP MATTERS
    A bold and profound meditation on trauma, legacy, oppression and racism in North America from award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott.

    In an urgent and visceral work that asks essential questions about the treatment of Native people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma, Alicia Elliott offers indispensable insight into the ongoing legacy of colonialism. She engages with such wide-ranging topics as race, parenthood, love, mental illness, poverty, sexual assault, gentrifcation, writing and representation, and in the process makes connections both large and small between the past and present, the personal and political—from overcoming a years-long battle with head lice to the way Native writers are treated within the Canadian literary industry; her unplanned teenage pregnancy to the history of dark matter and how it relates to racism in the court system; her childhood diet of Kraft Dinner to how systemic oppression is directly linked to health problems in Native communities.
    With deep consideration and searing prose, Elliott provides a candid look at our past, an illuminating portrait of our present and a powerful tool for a better future.

Excerpts-

  • From the book A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

    He took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose the way men in movies do whenever they encounter a particu­larly vexing woman.

    “I’m really confused. You need to give me something here. What’s making you depressed?”

    His reaction made me think briefly of residential schools, though at the time I couldn’t understand why. Maybe it was the fact that he operated his therapy sessions out of a church. That certainly didn’t help.

    I wasn’t sure what to say. Can a metaphor or simile capture depression? It was definitely heavy, but could I really compare it to a weight? Weight in and of itself is not devastating; depres­sion is. At times it made me short of breath and at times it had the potential to be deadly, but was it really like drowning? At least with drowning others could see the flailing limbs and splashing water and know you needed help. Depression could slip in entirely unnoticed and dress itself up as normalcy, so when it finally took hold others would be so surprised they wouldn’t know how to pull you to safety. They’d stand there staring—good-intentioned but helpless. Empathetic, perhaps, but mute. Or, as in the case of this particularly unqualified ther­apist, angry and accusing. Not that I necessarily blame them. I’ve done the same thing.


    When what was left of my family moved to the rez we lived in a two-bedroom trailer—my sister and I in the smaller room, my three younger brothers in the master bedroom. My parents had no bedroom, no bed. They slept in the living room on the couch and recliner. As one may assume of such circumstances, privacy was precious, if it existed at all. Doors never stayed closed for long; at any moment someone could barrel in unannounced. This meant there was no place for my mother to hide her illness.

    I’d mostly known her as having bipolar disorder, though she’d been diagnosed and rediagnosed many times. Postpartum depression, manic depression, schizophrenia. Most recently, my mother has been diagnosed as having either schizoaffective dis­order, which is a version of bipolar disorder with elements of schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder, depending on which doctor you talk to. None of these phrases gave her relief. In fact, they often seemed to hurt her, turning every feeling she had into yet another symptom of yet another disease.

    What these words meant to my siblings and me was that our mother’s health was on a timer. We didn’t know when the timer would go off, but when it did, our happy, playful, hilarious mother would disappear behind a curtain and another would emerge: alternatively angry and mournful, wired and lethargic. When she was depressed she’d become almost entirely silent. She’d lie on our brother’s bottom bunk and blink at us, her soft limp limbs spilling onto the stained, slate-coloured carpet. I’d sit on the floor beside her, smooth her hair—bottle red with grey moving in like a slow tide—and ask her what was wrong. She’d stay silent but her face would transform. Damp, swollen, violet, as if the words she couldn’t say were bubbling beneath her skin, burning her up from the inside.


    Terminology is tricky. Initially, depression was known as “melan­cholia,” a word that first brought to my mind a field of blue cornflower and golden hay. Its trochaic metre gave it an inher­ent poeticism, an ingrained elegance. It was delicate, feminine. Hamlet’s doomed lover, Ophelia, definitely did not suffer from depression. When she...

About the Author-

  • ALICIA ELLIOTT is a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River living in Brantford, Ontario, with her husband and child. Her writing has been published by The Malahat Review, The Butter, Room, Grain, The New Quarterly, CBC, The Globe and Mail, Vice, Maclean's, Today's Parent and Reader's Digest, among others. She's currently Creative Nonfiction Editor at The Fiddlehead, Associate Nonfiction Editor at Little Fiction

Reviews-

  • The Globe and Mail #1 National Bestseller
    Shortlisted for the 2019 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
    Shortlisted for the 2020 First Nation Communities Read Indigenous Literature Award

    "A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a tour de force. . . . Tuscarora writer Alicia Elliott takes her place among essayists such as [Roxane] Gay and [Samantha] Irby, infusing intimate details of her own life with sociopolitical analysis and biting wit. . . . In this collection, the particular structure of the personal essay--beginning with the experience of the writer and then weaving in threads of related material--is at its finest."
  • Toronto Star "[Elliott's] childhood is heartbreaking ground, and she writes about it fearlessly in her debut collection of essays, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. With caustic wit and sharp prose, Elliott . . . turns her own lived experience into seething declarations on the political and social issues of contemporary Canada. . . . Weaving her own childhood trauma, teen motherhood, her mother's mental illness and her father's abusive behaviour, Elliott is fierce and unapologetic in damning the 'settler' class for propagating a modern take on colonial attitudes toward Indigenous Canadians and people of colour. . . . A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a breathless barrage of facts, confessions and conjecture."

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    Doubleday Canada
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