Thomas King, 2014 GG Speech for The Back of The Turtle

Thomas King, 2014 GG Speech for The Back of The Turtle

Thomas King GG
Photo via

Your excellencies, fellow laureates, my agent Jackie Kaiser, my publisher and editor Iris Tulphome, and especially my partner Dr. Helen Hoy. This is truly extraordinary. The Governor General’s award for Fiction. Even now it’s difficult to believe.

I am a storyteller. And in that capacity, I like to imagine that I’ve been a strong advocate for Aboriginal rights and a minor voice in the struggle for planetary sanity. Certainly these are themes that run through my work, passions that fire my life. This probably makes me sound somewhat political.

And I suppose I am.

Politics, after all, has never been the sole domain of politicians any more than the telling of stories has been the exclusive landscape of artists.

All art is political, and, in a world that has tilted towards the unconscionable concept of profit at any price, we need be reminded that human beings, along with all living creatures, have a shared right to the air we breathe and the water we drink, that we have an enduring interest in the generosity of the societies we create, that we have a continuing obligation to extend compassion one to another.

When future generations tell their stories about us, our legacy will not be the wealth we accumulated nor the technologies we developed to comfort and amuse one another.

Our legacy will be our example. How we comported ourselves in our communities. How we conducted ourselves in the world.

So, as we live our lives, we might wish to ask ourselves the question . . . will this be a story we want our children to hear?

The Back of the TurtleExcerpt from The Back of the Turtle

Nicholas Crisp came by the next morning.

“If ye must have a chair, a rocker is what’s required,” he said, as he dropped the tailgate of his pickup. “Like riding an ocean swell or resting safe in your mother’s arms.”

“You made this?”

“We used to sit on the ground,” said Crisp. “And we used to walk on all fours.

“This is a nice chair.”

“And for all the good truth will do us, we were happier then.” Crisp walked to the edge of the deck. “Have ye a name somewhere about your person?

Gabriel nodded. “Several.”

“A name for every occasion,” said Crisp. “The Indians do such a thing, I’m told. Collect names as they’re earned or as they appear. In that, I’m a poor man with but one name to drag about.”

“Nicholas is a fine name.”

“It covers a territory, it does. St. Nick. Old Nick. Christmas and Hell. And all the bleeding nicks of life in between.”

“Gabriel. Mostly, I’m called Gabriel.”

“Gabriel!” Crisp’s voice rushed through the trees like a truck in a tunnel. “Now there’s thunder and storm. The best-loved of the four angels. The one chosen to announce the birth of John the Baptist and to reveal the Qu’ran to Muhammad. It’s Gabriel what tells Mary about the road ahead.”

Nicholas shook his head with delight.

“Dante made Gabriel the chief of the angelic guards placed at the entrance to paradise. Did ye know that? And if the creative arts are your butter and jam, there’s a movie called Constantine what has a Gabriel who betrays heaven and joins forces with the Dark Lord.”

Crisp’s eyes flashed in the fading light and his lips curled away from yellowing teeth.

“And now, at the meridian of the world, on this seal-piss and foggy-dog of a day, here stands another Gabriel, rigged for battle and havoc. It surely takes my breath away.”

“I’m not that Gabriel.”

“Yet here ye are,” said Nicholas, grabbing Gabriel firmly by the shoulders, “here ye are.”