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Posted: Tuesday March 23, 2010
Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway was born near Maria Lake, Manitoba in 1951. His father, Joe, was a hunter, fisherman and sled-dog racer, and his family lived a nomadic lifestyle. With no access to books, television or radio, Highway’s parents would tell their children stories; thus began Highway’s life-long interest in the oral tradition of storytelling. When he was six, Highway was taken from his family and placed in residential school in The Pas; he subsequently went to high school in Winnipeg and then travelled to London to study at the University of Western Ontario, earning a music degree in 1975 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1976. Instead of becoming a professional concert musician as he had at one point contemplated, however, Highway decided instead to dedicate his life to the service of his people. Fluent in Cree, English and French, he was for six years the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts, the first and most enduring Native professional company in Canada which he also helped found. From 1975 to 1978 Highway worked as a cultural worker for the Native Peoples’ Resource Centre. He has worked for the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture and also for the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres as a program analyst. From 1983 to 1985 he worked as a freelance theatre artist before becoming the artistic director of the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Company in 1986. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and Concordia University. Tomson Highway is widely recognized for his tremendous contribution to the development of Aboriginal theatre in both Canada and around the world. In 1994, he was inducted into the Order of Canada, the first Aboriginal writer to be so honoured.

LATEST Tomson Highway NEWS

August 2017 : From Oral to Written is launched!

July 2017 : Tonight! Tomson Highway launches From Oral to Written

July 2017 : From Oral to Written has gone from written to published!

January 2016 : No fewer than nine Talon plays on stage across Canada this spring!

December 2015 : Songs in the Key of Cree, December 12 & 13 in Toronto

October 2015 : Tomson Highway Wins 2015 Herbert Whittaker-CTCA Award!

July 2015 : Tomson Highway named one of five Indigenous Music Awards nominees to watch out for in 2015

January 2015 : A Juno for Tomson Highway?

December 2013 : Tomson Highway on The Next Chapter (CBC Radio)

October 2013 : Vancouver Writers Fest Begins Today!

October 2013 : Maclean's Magazine: In Conversation with Tomson Highway

August 2013 : Lineup Announcement! Vancouver Writers Fest 2013 (October)


Winner, 2017 REVEAL Indigenous Art Award

Winner, 2015 Herbert Whittaker-CTCA Award

One of Five 2015 Indigenous Music Awards nominees to watch out for, for The (Post) Mistress (CBC)


From Oral to Written

“There are several strengths. For theatre researchers, Highway is an amazing source since he served as artistic director with Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto from 1986 to 1992, and saw first-hand the emergence of this scene. He references over thirty plays, many foundational in the establishment of Indigenous theatre in Canada. … Also, anyone looking for titles of Indigenous literature in French will find an impressive list generally unknown in English-speaking circles. … Indigenous storytellers and writers have always adapted to constantly changing circumstances, and in the process have adopted a myriad of methods to tell our stories. And we will continue to do so.”
—Deanna Reder, The Ormsby Review

"Even as a long-time fan of the brilliant work of Tomson Highway, I was surprised to be so impressed with the scope of this excellent introduction to so many wonderful Canadian Indigenous authors, largely neglected by the mainstream media. It is a beautifully detailed catalogue of 176 summaries comprising an Indigenous tradition of published works, established by a brave and inspired group of exceptional individuals, bookended by a thoughtful prologue and epilogue." —Derek McPhail, Goodreads.com

“We gratefully acknowledge the work of those artists who have come before, and those that continue, building bridges across our cultures through their authentic words. Tomson Highway’s readings each demonstrate that within our stories, we pass along our teachings and we build upon the strength inside each one of us. We are arriving. Back to our lands, back to our stories, back to our truths, unwrapping old words and sharing wisdom. We, are coming home.”
—Terri Mack, Strong Nations

“A rich compilation of Indigenous literature that will be a gift for Canadian school curriculums, also well suited for those Canadians in search of understanding and reconciliation. More importantly this book is what Indigenous people need because, like me, they will discover their lives in the many stories. If I had this as a teenager, I would have understood that I was not alone in the darkness I lived. I would have seen that others found a way out. Bravo, Tomson Highway!”
―Bev Sellars, author of They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School and Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival

"Intended as a reference work, and not a strictly academic one, this book is a gateway and a guide to an exponentially growing literary tradition that we find already in 2010 was more than adequate for a life’s work of study."
―Abu-Isa Webb, Goodreads.com


(Post) Mistress, The

“A more modest work, a show whose principal revelation is that Highway is a first-rate piano player. … Highway has written an effective series of musical pastiches.”
The (Post) Mistress

“This is a softer, gentler work than the early plays for which [Highway] is best known … In The (Post) Mistress, you see Highway’s idea of beauty – a Peruvian-Canadian from Northern Ontario singing to a Brazilian beat in an indigenous language. It is a beautiful vision.”
Globe and Mail

“Along with great songs and a winning performance, what’s delivered here is a celebration of Francophone Northern Ontario, and the place in it of Native cultures, languages, and spirituality. It’s also an awesome display of linguistic virtuosity …”
Toronto Star

“Tomson Highway is at it again. … While Highway doesn’t ordinarily play the musical scores for his own theatrical pieces anymore, he made an exception for this one, he said.”

“True, innate star quality is rare but you know it when you see it. And you see it in Patricia Cano, who stars in The (Post) Mistress … The story evolves through speech and song. The play’s own playwright, Tomson Highway, plays piano … And the opening of the second act, a steamy, extraordinarily uninhibited tango of a scene set in Argentina, is an absolute scream. Thanks to Highway’s accomplished writing, the tender, sad and disturbing moments are as effective as the comedy. The dramatic arc is subtle … but this is definitely a play more than a succession of songs.”
Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

“Highway cut his teeth by writing work that mixed the spirit of his first language, Cree – the “trickster language,” he calls it – with topics like AIDS, sexual abuse, poverty and racism in native communities. The result is a kind of magical realism which expresses the universal aspects of his stories, much in the same manner a Shakespeare play can be understood without a firm handle on the language.”
Maclean’s Magazine

“Tomson Highway is a celebrated writer and an icon in the indigenous community. This Cree writer from northern Manitoba has written numerous plays, a novel and several children’s books. But Highway is also a master pianist, musician and songwriter. His latest offering is called The (Post) Mistress, a musical one-woman play. The multi-genre soundtrack includes songs in Cree, English and French — and, like Tomson, it defies category. Tomson Highway will be playing his grand piano on the Indigenous Music Awards (IMA) stage this year [2015], in what is sure to be an unforgettable performance.”

“Highway’s quirky humour permeates the script … Highway also delights in playing with language …”
Georgia Straight

“The choice to set the play in Francophone Canada is reminiscent of one of Highway’s main inspirations, Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs. The libretto is trilingual: in English, (glossed) French, and (glossed) Cree with some words of Spanish. … the self-aware exoticism of the play and the colourfulness of its characters (reminiscent of those from The Rez Sisters) should not make one forget its dark overtones as a tragicomedy: separation, death, and abuse are omnipresent … [the play features] endearing, memorable characters [and focuses] on métissage and love. … [It offers] compelling insights into what it means to be Canadian in today’s multicultural society and into the varied possibilities of Canadian theatre.”
Canadian Literature

“Jazzy, raw, heartfelt.”

“Through song, humour, and love, this one-woman show … is simply riveting. … a moving performance about a woman who has never left small-town Canada. She has lived her life partly through the letters of others … and yet, still possesses a fire that cannot be put out.”
—Jacqueline Nelson, The Walleye


Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout

The play is both laugh-out loud funny and a precarious high-wire act…
Globe & Mail



Tomson Highway has been a groundbreaking foundational dramatist—the inaugural voice of a generation of First Nations playwrights in Canada.
Canadian Literature

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