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Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Ojibwe Michigan author shares background, book at Great Michigan Read event

Courtesy / GVSU

Michigan Humanities, an organization that supports humanities programming in the state, hosted the author of “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” Angeline Boulley, at the Kent District Library for the Great Michigan Read event on Thursday, Oct. 12. The Great Michigan Read is designed to “create a statewide discussion around a Michigan-themed book” and featured a book talk, signing and discussion with Boulley on her journey of becoming an author. 

The event began with a discussion centered on Boulley’s authorship. Boulley said the idea for her first book, “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” originally came to her 35 years before the book was published. 

“Firekeeper’s Daughter” is a young adult novel following the story of a young Ojibwe woman who becomes involved in an FBI investigation following the death of a close friend. Boulley, former Director for the Office of Indian Education (OIE) in the U.S. Department of Education and member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, drew from her own Native American heritage in the development of the book. In doing so, she created a story that wraps the reader into a murder mystery surrounded in Michigan indigenous culture following an Anishinaabe woman. 

Primarily a self-taught author, Boulley said she taught herself story-telling through others’ literary works.

“I would get books about the craft of writing dialogue, but then I would also reread my favorite books and see how those authors wrote dialogue that was so perfect,” Boulley said.

Boulley said she worked on editing her first book for ten years before she looked for an agent, quickly finding one after only two weeks.

The book became a huge success and was even named in the “Top 100 Best YA Novels of All Time” list by Time Magazine. Riding the success of the book, Boulley signed the film rights for “Firekeeper’s Daughter” to the Obamas’ production company Higher Ground Media to be developed into a Netflix original series. She then got a deal for her second book, “Warrior Girl Unearthed,” which came out in May of 2023. 

Boulley finds the novel’s success is especially validating because she is self-taught.

“Winning the awards and having it be a commercial success means a lot ’cause I didn’t come from a famous writing program. I didn’t have any credentials. I was unknown,” Boulley said.

Boulley has won numerous awards such as the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, which “honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit” and the American Indian Youth Literature Award, which “identifies and honors the very best writing and illustrations by Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of North America.” Both of Boulley’s books have landed first on the New York Times bestseller list. 

“My favorite situation is when a teacher says that a reluctant reader was the first one to finish the book,” Boulley said, remarking about her favorite aspect of meeting fans. “And then I love when Native students say they never saw themselves in a book before.”

The Michigan Reads tour was posted on the Grand Valley State University’s events calendar under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Many GVSU students, community members and readers were in attendance and asked Boulley questions after her presentation in a question and answer session. Questions ranged from a desire to learn about Boulley’s writing schedule to specific questions about character development to how she pushed herself to become the author she is today. Many could not keep the admiration and thrill out of their voices at the opportunity to speak with the novelist.

“I’m currently reading ‘Firekeeper Daughter,’ and I just love literature. I’m an English teacher,” community member Lori Laughlin said. 

Additionally, Boulley advised aspiring writers “to keep going and to find your passion in writing” and said perseverance was essential to her success.

Boulley concluded the event with a book signing. Books were sold at the Kent District Library by the Books and Mortar bookstore. Boulley spends her time working on her third book in between touring and said she already has a deal for a fourth book coming soon.

The Great Michigan Read event allowed Boulley to share her journey with writing, connecting readers and writers to hear a true Michigan success story. 

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