The Book That Changed Your Life: Rodney DeCroo

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      The Word Vancouver festival is gearing up for its 2017 edition with a huge and inclusive lineup of authors, appearing at venues around town from September 19 to 24.

      We asked a group of these acclaimed writers to tell us about their most memorable reading experiences. Which books shaped their imaginations early on? Which ones taught them the power of the written word?

      Here’s what Vancouver’s Rodney DeCroo told us. DeCroo is a celebrated songwriter and the author of two poetry collections, Allegheny, BC and Next Door to the Butcher Shop. He’ll be reading from his work at 12:25 p.m. on September 24, on the Sunrise Suite stage outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

      I was 11 years old when I found a mouldy paperback copy of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in a box of discarded books at my school. I asked my teacher if I could read it. He said I could but that I was probably too young to understand it.

      The book was like a hand grenade tossed into my preadolescent mind. Brown’s account of America’s genocidal campaign against American Indians blew apart the trailer-park, militaristic American patriotism I’d been force-fed. That patriotism was a weird and contradictory cocktail of romantic stories about George Custer’s Last Stand versus the evil Indians, Lincoln's heroic efforts to free the slaves, and the legend of America as the champion of freedom and democracy throughout the world. I was a fervent little patriot and rabidly consumed books like Grosset & Dunlap’s We Were There patriotic historical novels for children. My father had returned from the Vietnam War with severe PTSD and both my parents struggled with alcohol and other drugs. So there was lots of chaos and violence in our home and I clung to these myths because they made me part of something allegedly great and good. When I asked adults about Brown’s book they either dismissed it as bullshit or anti-American propaganda.

      A few years later I’d skipped school so I could go to a Pittsburgh Pirates home opener at Three Rivers Stadium. I was sitting next to a man who told me he was a Pirates fan because they’d fielded the first all-black starting lineup in Major League Baseball. He also told me that he was part black and part American Indian. Suddenly, I was telling him about Brown’s book and how horribly we’d treated Indians and that it was bad to be an American. He listened quietly, then asked if I was an American. I said yes, of course. Then he said—and I’ll never forget it—“Then you can be any kind of American you want, so be the kind you want to believe in.”

      Rebecca Blissett