Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A Minor Chorus looks at modern love and the Indigenous experience — read an excerpt now

Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A Minor Chorus looks at modern love and the Indigenous experience — read an excerpt now

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Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A Minor Chorus looks at modern love and the Indigenous experience — read an excerpt now's Profile


A Minor Chorus is the debut novel from Griffin Poetry Prize-winning poet and author Billy-Ray Belcourt.

A Minor Chorus will follow an unnamed narrator who abandons his thesis and goes back to his hometown, where he has a series of intimate encounters bringing the modern queer and Indigenous experience into focus.

Belcourt is a writer and academic from Driftpile Cree Nation in Alberta. In 2016, he became the first Indigenous person from Canada to be a Rhodes Scholar. 

Belcourt won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize for This Wound is a World. The debut collection also won the 2018 Indigenous Voices Award for most significant work of poetry in English and was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry.

His second book, NDN Coping Mechanisms, uses poetry, prose and textual art to explore how Indigenous and queer communities are left out of mainstream media. It was on the Canada Reads 2020 longlist and was shortlisted for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards.

He is also the author of the memoir A History of My Brief Bodywhich is about how his family was impacted by colonialism and intergenerational trauma and yet still hold joy and love in their hearts and lives. 

A Minor Chorus represents a “genre-bending” exploration of northern Alberta and an experimental take on the novel form, but told in the voice of a “twenty-something queer Indigenous protagonist who loves theory and is depressed,” Belcourt told CBC Books. “The book also attends to the lives of a whole chorus of imagined people from northern Alberta, taking seriously their suffering and dreams as worthy of literary investment,” he added.

“In 2018, I was consumed by what one of Roland Barthes’s translators (Kate Briggs) called the ‘Fantasy-of-the-Novel,’ which is not about the novel as an object but as a way of living, a mode of consideration. The novel is a way to live out one’s aesthetic beliefs … I wanted to write a book that felt communal at its core,” said Belcourt.

A Minor Chorus will be available on Sept. 13, 2022.

You can read an excerpt from A Minor Chorus below.


It was April of last year, she began. There was still snow on the ground. I remember how it melted under my slippers, how I forgot to take them off my damp feet when I went back to bed. Jack phoned me around two in the morning. No one’s phone rings that late on a Saturday night unless it’s bad news.

By then, I had already started sleeping poorly, moving in and out of consciousness until morning. I ran up the stairs as soon as I heard the ringing; it was like my body had reverted to a more agile state. I’m driving home, kokum, he told me, in a hushed tone, before I could say hello. I think a cop is following me. I’ve had a bit to drink, but I’m not drunk or anything. I promise. I’m on the dirt road, just before the rez. Jack, I said, listen to me, Jack.

I said his name about a dozen times during that conversation. It was all I could manage —Jack, she said, once more, letting it embalm us like a secret. It was an unanswered beckoning, the opposite of an incantation, a warning, something like, Run!

Jack swore abruptly, which always made Mary flinch, then he put the phone down. He would leave it on speaker so that she could hear everything, but he told her she had to keep quiet.

Jack swore abruptly, which always made Mary flinch, then he put the phone down. He would leave it on speaker so that she could hear everything, but he told her she had to keep quiet.

Straight away she discerned what she initially thought were muffled radio sounds but what was actually the deep voice of a male officer. Jack turned off the ignition and suddenly there was an oppressive kind of quiet, one so simultaneously thick and porous they shared it, as if there were no longer any distinction between where she was and where he was, as if their combined terror violated scientific law.

Then, she went on, the officer opened the door and, like thunder, he started shouting again; despite being filtered through a phone, his booming speech made her jump.

Put your hands behind your head! Get down! To the ground! The officer yelled with a gravity that struck Mary again, physically, kilometres away.

Mary ran outside, unthinking, hoping Jack was closer to the house than he’d said he was, that she’d be able to see him, that the officer would know he was loved. All she found was darkness and so she stood in it, her feet swallowed by snow, gripping the phone, praying Jack would be arrested peacefully.

She was that hopeless — it wasn’t a matter of what was horrible and what wasn’t anymore. There were degrees of horror, and she learned to cope with and to live inside some of them.

A grandmother, the night droning on and on around her, awaiting what will break her heart — how else to set the scene of rural Alberta?

My whole body tensed up, she continued. It was as if she herself was expecting to be shot. Or as if Jack being shot meant she would be too. She always worried that if Jack were to die before she did, it would be in a catastrophic fashion, from an officer’s bullet, for example.

No one wants to outlive a child, no one, she said. It was a cliché that suddenly seemed new, shocking, piercing.

No one wants to outlive a child, no one, she said. It was a cliché that suddenly seemed new, shocking, piercing.

All Mary could do was listen, so she concentrated her sensory powers on the act of hearing. The phone was pressed so hard to her ear there was an indentation when she finally pulled it back.

She heard a couple grunts, from whom she couldn’t tell; for a second she didn’t know if Jack was dead or alive or if his face had been shoved into the gravel or if he was kneeling there, politely, composed. They might as well have all been occurring simultaneously, she said, for she experienced a range of emotions balled up into one. Her body stopped feeling like a body. Then the connection ended. She was hung up on.

She didn’t budge — for how long, she didn’t know. Perhaps something inside her resisted what had happened; to move would have been to surrender to reality. Had the officer used excessive force, she said, it would have been the fourth or fifth time that month that a man from the rez was unlawfully brutalized. But, of course, Jack was. He was the fourth or fifth.

I was familiar with this genre of story, in the way that all Indigenous people were familiar with it, but my body reacted as if I were hearing it for the first time. The hairs on my arms rose, as if to say “enough.” To whom or what does the body plead?


Excerpted from A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt. Copyright © 2022 Billy-Ray Belcourt. Published by Hamish Hamilton Canada, and imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.



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