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Artist Profile: Amanda Peters on ‘The Berry Pickers’ and Embracing Indigenous Stories

In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Peters expanded on her writing journey and the process behind “The Berry Pickers.”
In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Peters expanded on her writing journey and the process behind “The Berry Pickers.” By Courtesy of Catapult Press and Courtesy of Audrey Michaud-Peters
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

Amanda Peters’ newest novel, “The Berry Pickers,” is all about cause and effect.

“The Berry Pickers” follows a Mi’kmaq family torn apart after the disappearance of its youngest member, a little girl named Ruthie. Peters wrote the novel after hearing her father, a berry picker himself, tell stories about his days in Maine. In following this narrative, Peters highlighted the traumatic echoes that separation can create.

“I feel like I’ve succeeded in doing something that can help, so to speak, even though it is fiction. Helping people to see that there are lasting consequences when you do something like that. When you take a child away from her family and her culture, there is something missing there,” Peters said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson. “There are consequences for everybody. And they’re not good consequences 99% of the time.”

Born and raised in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, Peters is an associate professor in the Department of English and Theatre at Acadia University as well as an author. In the interview, Peters expanded on her writing journey and the process behind “The Berry Pickers.”

The novel follows the perspectives of Joe and Norma, two characters dealing with a terrible loss, weaving their stories of grief together into an enchanting narrative. Keeping these dual voices unique was key to Peters’ writing process.

“As I started writing, I found that I wasn’t sure I was being true to Joe’s voice and wasn’t sure if I was being true to Norma’s voice. So I just wrote all Joe’s. And then I wrote all the Norma’s, and then I put it together like a puzzle,” said Peters. “I really needed the voices to be very distinct because they have two different life experiences.”

In following the story of a lost Native child, Peters’ novel comments on the dark legacy of Native American residential schools and how young Indigenous girls have been taken from their families across North America. Peters did not write the novel with this parallel in mind, but she is not lost to how her book echoes history.

“The intention of the novel was to tell a good story,” Peters said. “But I think being an Indigenous person living and working in my Indigenous communities for years, and sitting and listening to residential school survivors tell their stories. Listening to those stories — I think it just comes as a natural product of being who I am and my life experiences.”

Incorporating Indigenous stories naturally fits into Peters’ writing. Still, getting to this place took Peters some time.

“I used to think that I shouldn’t write Indigenous stories, just because I wasn’t raised on the reserve, I don’t speak my language. The effects of colonization succeeded here, unfortunately,” Peters said.

But avoiding this part of herself led to unsatisfactory stories.

“They lacked heart. They lacked soul, they lacked rhythm, they lacked everything. So then I wrote my first Indigenous short story, it was a piece of flash fiction, and I loved it. It had my voice, the voice I wanted to bring,” Peters said.

Embracing her mixed Mi’kmaq and settler ancestry has allowed Peters to find her truest voice.

“I’m coming into that part of myself late in life, as a lot of Indigenous people are because of the effects of colonization. And I think my writing is actually the way I’m doing that. It’s uplifting me, and it’s making me want to know more,” she said.

Getting to this part of her writing journey wasn’t quick for Peters. Before becoming a published author, Peters faced many challenges and rejections. Still, she found that these roadblocks only represent how far she’s come.

“I always say, ‘Love those rejection letters,’ because they’re the stepping stone to better things,” Peters said.

Peters encouraged people in creative fields to keep working on their art, no matter how long it takes to get it out in the world.

“I always say, ‘Just keep going,’” Peters said. “I’m 46 when my first novel came out. I had lots of rejections before that. Lots of short stories and agents and stuff like that. But I just wanted to keep going, because I loved it. It’s what I loved.”

“So it’s never too late to start. And never too early to start either. I wrote a short story when I was 21 that I’m still tinkering with,” Peters said. “Just keep going.”

This attitude of getting through the hardest parts of life is reflected in “The Berry Pickers.” In both her work ethic and her stories, Peters encourages readers to keep fighting and to always embrace their truest identities.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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