A Long Time Coming: Angeline Boulley's 'Firekeeper's Daughter' Takes 2022 Printz Award

The Native American author had the idea for Firekeeper's Daughter, a modern-day thriller, nearly 40 years ago.

Upon hearing that her debut novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, won the 2022 Michael L. Printz Award, Angeline Boulley’s thoughts went immediately to other Native and marginalized creators. Through her tears, Boulley told the Printz committee, “I know what this means.”

In a call with SLJ on Monday, she explained her sentiments.

“I know what this means to be someone from an underrepresented community and [receiving] this, what it's going to mean to emerging authors—people who are from other tribal communities that are telling their stories—just seeing that this was possible,” said Boulley, of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

She can only imagine how she would have felt seeing a Native writer win such a prestigious award when she was growing up.

“To have a book be recognized for the quality of writing, the strength of the story, and the representation? I think it would have meant the world to me to see that,” she said.

The book, a character-driven thriller set in Sault Ste. Marie, also won the Morris Award for a book for teens published by a first-time author, and was named an Honor title by the American Indian Youth Literature Awards committee in the Young Adult category.

The recognition is the end of a long journey for Boulley and this story. Now 56, Boulley first had the idea for the book when she was 18—which was also the first year she read a book with a Native main character.

“That story didn't have me feeling as good as I thought it would,” she remembers. “The representation was problemsome.”

Boulley actively worked on the Firekeeper’s Daughter manuscript for a decade before she felt she had a draft worthy of giving to an agent.

“I always felt like it was something special, and that I needed to hone my skill, my writing craft, to be worthy of telling the story,” Boulley said. “I felt like it could be big, that if I paid attention and trusted where the story needed to go, that there was something special there.”

Through feedback from members of the Native community, she learned what should and should not be included and how to present the story to a greater audience.

“I did feel this greater sense of responsibility to protect my community and honor it,” she said. “For example, one of the things that I did not include was actual ceremonies. Those are not meant for people outside of that ceremony. When I draft, I put everything I want in the story. And then it's in editing that I really think about, ‘Who needs to read this? What needs to be included? What is better to keep off the page?’ That’s the process. I have that this mantra that I write to preserve my culture, and I edit to protect it.”

Authors can be very anxious when a book hits the world, especially one that is particularly personal and that they have worked on for years. But Boulley felt only gratitude.

“I wasn't as worried. I was thankful,” she said. “I was thankful that it took as long as it did.”

Now, she hopes that the awards that lead young readers to her book act as a catalyst.

“I hope that when readers read my book that it spurs them to read other books by Indigenous authors, because we're not a monolith,” she said. “A book from my community is going to be very different from a book from another tribal community. And even within my community, there's a lot of diversity. So you really need to read more, just to get that fuller picture. I definitely hope that the visibility of this award helps bring more people, more readers, to these great stories that are being told.”

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