Thomas King (novelist)

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Thomas King CC
King in 2008
King in 2008
Born (1943-04-24) April 24, 1943 (age 81)
Roseville, California, US
Pen nameHartley GoodWeather
  • Writer
  • presenter
  • activist
  • academic
CitizenshipUnited States, Canada
Period1980s–present (as writer)
GenrePostmodern, trickster novel; comedy and drama script
SubjectFirst Nations
Notable worksMedicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; The Truth About Stories
Notable awardsOrder of Canada, 2004
ChildrenChristian (born 1971), Benjamin (born 1985) and Elizabeth (born 1988)

Thomas King CC (born April 24, 1943) is an American-born Canadian writer and broadcast presenter who most often writes about First Nations.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Thomas Hunt King was born in Roseville, California, on April 24, 1943.[2][3] He self-identifies as being of Cherokee, Greek, and German descent.[4][3] King says his father left the family when the boys were very young, and that they were raised almost entirely by their mother.[5][6] In his series of Massey Lectures, eventually published as a book The Truth About Stories (2003), King tells that after their father's death, he and his brother learned that their father had two other families, neither of whom knew about the third.[5][6]

As a child, King attended grammar school in Roseville, California, and both private Catholic and public high schools. After flunking out of Sacramento State University, he joined the US Navy for a brief period of time before receiving a medical discharge for a knee injury. Following this, King worked several jobs, including as an ambulance driver, bank teller, and photojournalist in New Zealand for three years.

King eventually completed bachelor's and master's degrees from Chico State University in California. He moved to Utah, where he worked as a counselor for American Indian students before completing a PhD program in English at the University of Utah. His 1971 MA thesis was on film studies.[7] His 1986 PhD dissertation[8] was on Native American studies, one of the earliest works to explore the oral storytelling tradition as literature.[9] Around this time, King became interested in American Indian oral traditions and storytelling.[9]


After moving to Canada in 1980, King taught Native studies at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) in the early 1980s. He also served as a faculty member of the University of Minnesota's American Indian studies department. As of 2020, King was listed as Professor (retired), Professor Emeritus, School of English and Theatre Studies by the University of Guelph (Ontario).[10]


King has criticized policies and programs of both the United States and Canadian governments in many interviews and books.[5] He is worried about aboriginal prospects and rights in North America. He says that he fears that aboriginal culture, and specifically aboriginal land, will continue to be taken away from aboriginal peoples until there is nothing left for them at all. In his 2013 book The Inconvenient Indian, King says, "The issue has always been land. It will always be land, until there isn't a square foot of land left in North America that is controlled by Native people."[11]

King also discusses policies regarding aboriginal status. He noted that legislatures in the 1800s in the United States and Canada withdrew aboriginal status from persons who graduated from university or joined the army. King has also worked to identify North American laws that make it complicated to claim status in the first place, for example, the US Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 or Canada's 1985 Bill C-31. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in 1985 to allow aboriginal women and their children to reclaim status, which the Act had previously withdrawn if the woman married a non-status man. King claims that the amended act, though progressive for women who had lost their status, threatens the status of future generations because of its limitations.[5]


King has been writing novels, and children's books, and collections of stories since the 1980s. His notable works include A Coyote Columbus Story (1992) and Green Grass, Running Water (1993) – both of which were nominated for a Governor General's Award (the former for children's literature, and the latter for fiction[9] – and The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012), which won the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize.[12] King's novel, Indians on Vacation (2020), won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2021.

King was chosen to deliver the 2003 Massey Lectures, entitled The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative.[5] King was the first Massey lecturer of self-identifying aboriginal descent. King explored the Native experience in oral stories, literature, history, religion and politics, popular culture and social protest in order to make sense of North America's relationship with its aboriginal peoples.

King's writing style incorporates oral storytelling structures with traditional Western narrative. He writes in a conversational tone; for example, in Green Grass, Running Water, the narrator argues with some of the characters. In The Truth About Stories, King addresses the reader as if in a conversation with responses. King uses a variety of anecdotes and humorous narratives while maintaining a serious message in a way that has been compared to the style of trickster legends in Native American culture. Within this story, King also integrates the recently popularized idea of turtles all the way down in an anecdote introducing this narrative, calling into the relevancy of this ideology in American and Native American history.


In April 2007 King announced that he would seek the New Democratic Party (NDP) nomination for Guelph district. On March 30, 2007, he was named the NDP candidate. NDP leader Jack Layton was present at the nomination meeting.[13] A by-election was called in the riding due to the resignation of incumbent Liberal Member of Parliament Brenda Chamberlain, effective April 7, 2008. Scheduled for September 8, 2008, the by-election was cancelled with the calling of the October 14, 2008 federal general election. King finished fourth behind Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote, Conservative candidate Gloria Kovach, and Green candidate Mike Nagy.

Other work[edit]

In the 1990s, he served as story editor for Four Directions,[14] a CBC Television drama anthology series about First Nations which was held up by production and scheduling delays before finally airing in 1996.[15] He also wrote the teleplay "Borders", an adaptation of his own previously published short story, for the series.[15]

From 1997 to 2000, King wrote and acted in a CBC radio show, The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, which featured a fictitious town and a fictitious radio program hosted by three First Nations characters. Elements were adapted from his novel, Green Grass, Running Water. The broadcast was a political and social satire with dark humour and mocking stereotypes.

In July 2007, King made his directorial debut with I'm Not the Indian You Had in Mind, a short film which he wrote.[16]

His book of shorter poems, 77 Fragments of Familiar Ruin includes short poems, many along native themes, and (at least one) wonderful love poem:

-Imagine I've written you

-a love poem.

-Imagine how it might sound in a warm wind,

-feel in a long caress,

-look waking up together

-in the morning.

-Imagine I've written you

-a love poem.


-That wasn't so hard.

In 2020, his book The Inconvenient Indian was adapted by Michelle Latimer as a documentary film, Inconvenient Indian.[17]

Personal life[edit]

His partner is Helen Hoy, a professor emerita of English and Women's Studies at the University of Guelph, School of English and Theatre Studies.[18] She has written a study, How Should I Read These? Native Women Writers in Canada, (2001). He has three children, Christian (born 1971), Benjamin (born 1985) and Elizabeth (born 1988). The couple resides in Guelph, Ontario.[19]



  • Medicine River (Viking Canada, 1990), novel
  • A Coyote Columbus Story (Douglas & McIntyre, 1992), illustrated by William Kent Monkman – Governor General's Award finalist
  • Green Grass, Running Water (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), novel featuring Coyote, OCLC 26632171 – Governor General's Award finalist
  • One Good Story, That One (1993), stories
  • Borders (1993)
  • Coyote Sings to the Moon (1998), illus. Johnny Wales
  • Truth and Bright Water (HarperFlamingo Canada, 1999)
  • The Truth About Stories (House of Anansi Press, 2003); US edition The Truth About Stories: a native narrative (U. of Minnesota Press, 2005) – Massey Lectures
  • Coyote's New Suit (2004), illus. Johnny Wales
  • A Short History of Indians in Canada (HarperCollins, 2005), stories – McNally Robinson Award winner
  • A Coyote Solstice Tale (Groundwood Books, 2009), illus. Gary Clement
  • The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Doubleday Canada, 2012)
  • The Back of the Turtle (Doubleday, 2014) – Governor General's Award winner
  • 77 Fragments of Familiar Ruin (2019) - Poems
  • Indians on Vacation (2020)
  • Sufferance (2021)
DreadfulWater Mysteries
  • Dreadful Water Shows Up (2002), published under the pen name Hartley GoodWeather (reprinted 2017 as DreadfulWater, as author Thomas King)
  • The Red Power Murders (2006), as Hartley GoodWeather (reprinted 2017, as author Thomas King )
  • Cold Skies (2018)
  • A Matter of Malice (2019)
  • Obsidian (2020)
  • Deep House (2022)[20]
As editor
  • The Native in Literature (1987)
  • An Anthology of Short Fiction by Native Writers in Canada (1988)
  • All My Relations: an anthology of contemporary Canadian native fiction (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1990)

Selected short stories[edit]

Short story collections are listed above.

  • "Coyote and the Enemy Aliens" (HarperCollins, 2012), ebook, OCLC 877892260


  • Four Directions (CBC Television, 1996), drama anthology series, as editor and sometime writer
  • The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour (CBC Radio, 1997 to 2000) and its sequels (2002 and 2006)
  • I'm Not The Indian You Had In Mind, 2007, short film also directed by King

Awards and recognition[edit]

Electoral record[edit]

Guelph2008 Canadian federal election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Frank Valeriote 18,977 32.22% -6.17
Conservative Gloria Kovach 17,185 29.18% -0.57
Green Mike Nagy 12,456 21.15% +12.43
New Democratic Thomas King 9,709 16.49% -5.51
Marijuana Kornelis Kleverling 172 0.27% N/A
Libertarian Philip Bender 159 0.27% N/A
Communist Drew Garvie 77 0.13% -0.05
Animal Alliance Karen Levenson 73 0.12% N/A
Independent John Turmel 58 0.10% N/A
Marxist–Leninist Manuel Couto 29 0.05% -0.02

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas King in The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ "Thomas King | The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  3. ^ a b David, Daniel. "Thomas King, still not the Indian you had in mind – The Globe and Mail". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  4. ^ "Guelph author Thomas King promoted within Order of Canada". Creston Valley Advance. 28 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e "The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative". Ideas. Massey Lectures 2003 (November 7). CBC Radio One ( Retrieved September 7, 2007. Archived May 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b King, Thomas (2003). The truth about stories : a native narrative. Toronto, Ontario. ISBN 0-88784-696-3. OCLC 52877468.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ "A catalog of 16 mm. educational and feature films based on the lives and works of forty American literary figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries". Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  8. ^ "Inventing the Indian: White images, Native oral literature, and contemporary Native writers". Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "An Interview With Thomas King". Canadian Literature ( Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  10. ^ "Thomas King, College of Arts". U of G. 1 March 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  11. ^ "Thomas King Asks: What do Whites Want?". Maclean's. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  12. ^ a b "Thomas King wins $25K RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction". CBC News. March 10, 2014.
  13. ^ "Tom King acclaimed as federal NDP candidate". The Fountain Pen. Guelph, Ontario. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
  14. ^ "Writer urges CBC to let natives tell their own stories". Toronto Star. November 20, 1993.
  15. ^ a b "CBC finally releases stirring aboriginal dramas". Ottawa Citizen. November 24, 1996.
  16. ^ "I'm Not the Indian You Had in Mind". National Screen Institute ( March 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  17. ^ Ryan Porter, "Film adaptations of Indigenous bestsellers The Inconvenient Indian, the Trickster series to premiere at TIFF". Quill & Quire, July 30, 2020.
  18. ^ "Helen Hoy". U of G. 1 March 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  19. ^ a b "Guelph author Thomas King promoted within Order of Canada". Guelph Today. 27 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  20. ^ "66 works of Canadian fiction to watch for in spring 2022". CBC Books, January 11, 2022.
  21. ^ "Thomas King, Bev Sellars among finalists for 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature". Quill & Quire. September 3, 2014.
  22. ^ "Thomas King wins Governor General's award for fiction". The Globe and Mail. November 18, 2014.
  23. ^ "Thomas King, Gil Adamson among finalists for $50K Writers' Trust Fiction Prize". Toronto Star, October 6, 2020.
  24. ^ "Francesca Ekwuyasi, Billy-Ray Belcourt & Anne Carson among 2020 Governor General's Literary Awards finalists". CBC Books, May 4, 2021.
  25. ^ "Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir receive Order of Canada". Kitchener Today. 27 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  26. ^ "Thomas King wins $15,000 Stephen Leacock Medal for humour writing". The Globe and Mail, June 4, 2021.
  • W. H. New. Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 577–80.

Further reading[edit]

  • Eva Gruber, ed. Thomas King: Works and Impact. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012. ISBN 9781571134356

External links[edit]