Black Apple: a story of love and redemption

Joan Crate imagined a fictional Blackfoot girl named Rose Marie Whitewater and introduced her through her poetry. When the “tiny, feisty, stubborn” character insisted on lingering in Crate’s mind, “I had to follow through a bit,” said the author and retired Red Deer College instructor.

Joan Crate imagined a fictional Blackfoot girl named Rose Marie Whitewater and introduced her through her poetry.

When the “tiny, feisty, stubborn” character insisted on lingering in Crate’s mind, “I had to follow through a bit,” said the author and retired Red Deer College instructor.

Crate decided to see what would happen if she fleshed out the character of Rose Marie further through prose. The result is the new novel, Black Apple — a story of love, redemption and forgiveness. It was 10 years in the making and is now being published by Simon and Schuster Canada.

The plot follows the life of the irrepressible Rose Marie from age 7, when she’s torn from her family and taken to St. Mark’s residential school for girls by government decree, to age 19.

Although two-thirds of the novel is set at the Indian residential school, Crate, who’s part Metis, believes this was more out of necessity than design. “I was locked into (this setting)” because she saw Rose Marie living in Southern Alberta during the mid 1940s to early 1950s.

“I thought, could I have her escape this somehow? But there was (realistically) no way that she would not be going to residential school,” added the author, who will read at a book launch of her novel at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 11, at Sunworks in Red Deer.

When Crate, who was short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Award for her first 1989 novel, Breathing, first began working on this new story during her summer breaks from teaching, many Canadians were still unfamiliar with the destructive legacy of these mostly church-run boarding schools.

Some friends she spoke to didn’t even realize that Indian families had no choice but to send their children away to be assimilated.

These historic facts are now widely known in the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. But Crate feels her aim was never to educate readers so much as to provide insight into what the experience could have been like for one little aboriginal girl.

“The main thing is not to teach, but (to) show a part of history that had been suppressed and swept under the carpet for a time,” she said. “It was important to get that out of the box.”

Just as author Joy Kogawa’s book Obasan allowed readers to empathize with characters who were moved to internment camps for Japanese-Canadians during the war, Crate hopes Black Apple will open an insightful window into what cultural deprivation was like for many indigenous children and their families.

“You can see it through someone else’s eyes. That’s the gift of fiction. It can transport you through another person’s experience and broaden us as people.”

While Rose Marie is shaped by her residential school ordeal, Crate doesn’t want people to think of Black Apple is a depressing tale. There’s an element of magical realism as Rose Marie has psychic gifts that allow her to see the future and the past through dreams and visions. There’s also a love story and a mystery in the book, along with themes of faith and belonging.

“There’s complexity, and I think it’s ultimately uplifting,” said Crate, who painted the nuns of St. Mark’s in nuanced shades of grey — from tyrannical Sister Joan, to merciful Sister Grace, who cares for Rose Marie, the person, as well as her immortal soul.

Although the now Calgary-based Crate learned about First Nations cultures as a child when her her father (of Irish-Scotch and aboriginal heritage) taught at reserve schools in B.C. and Alberta, she still worried some people would feel she was appropriating an indigenous voice with her character of Rose Marie.

Crate felt better after two editors of aboriginal heritage read her novel and found it accurate and powerful. The book was also called “moving” in a positive review in Quill & Quire.

“I would like to think that we’ve gotten past the idea that a person can only write about their own experience. If you do your research and are respectful (of cultures), you can write about characters who come from a lot of different places,” she said.

The author, who retired from teaching English at RDC in 2013, feels fortunate to have her book published by Simon and Schuster at a time when few new novels are making the cut. Crate is already working on a new writing project that she said isn’t related to a First Nations experience.

Black Apple is available at Sunworks, Chapters, Amazon and other booksellers.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read