A Grandmother Begins the Story

A Novel


By Michelle Porter

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From award-winning Métis author Michelle Porter, a powerfully funning and moving story told not just by five generations of Métis women, but also by the land, the bison that surround them, and two utterly captivating dogs.

Carter is a young mother on a quest to find the true meaning of her heritage, which she only learned of in her teens. Allie is trying to make up for the lost years with her first born and to protect Carter from the hurt she herself suffered from her own mother. Lucie wants the granddaughter she's never met to help her get to her ancestors in the afterlife. And Geneviève is determined to conquer her demons—before the fire inside burns her up—with the help of the sister she lost but has never been without. Meanwhile, Mamé, in the afterlife, knows that all their stories began with her; she must find a way to cut herself from the last threads that keep her tethered to the living, just as they must find their own paths forward. And a young bison wants to understand why he keeps being moved and whether he should make a break for it and run for his life.

This extraordinary novel, told by a chorus of vividly realized, wise, confused, struggling characters attempting to make sense of this life and the next, heralds the arrival of a stunning new voice in literary fiction.

  • Shortlisted for the Atwood Gibson Prize
  • A Grandmother Begins the Story will leave you forever charmed and soulspun. What a vision. What courage to blow a hole through all expectations of what a story can be and how it's told, and what a masterwork from a voice I'd follow anywhere. This is why we read and this is why we write: to discover places and voices and visions like these.”
    Richard van Camp, award-winning author of Godless but Loyal to Heaven and The Moon of Letting Go
  • “Deeply imaginative and utterly captivating. Michelle Porter’s storytelling pushes genre boundaries in a way that will surprise and delight readers. The prose is tight, and the characters are unforgettable. I don’t think I understood the term “unputdownable” until now.”
    Carleigh Baker, award-winning author of Bad Endings
  • "Michelle Porter’s novel, A Grandmother Begins the Story, is charged with huge blasts of imaginative force—magical in every way. In this novel, divided families come together, there are wise bison, and dogs with opinions, an Indigenous family history spanning generations. Here is heaven and then, what the rest of these vivid characters must contend with, life on earth, with all its splendor and heartbreak. Porter is sometimes knee-slappingly funny, sometimes wry, poignant, nuanced, and gleefully irreverent. But this novel is full of reverence for the most important things: music and stories. Porter’s characters are tough and tender, courageous and flawed, and so true to life you’ll go back to the beginning as soon as you turn the last page, because you can't stand for it to be over. Michelle Porter’s voice is unique, uber-alive, utterly gorgeous. Just, WOW!" 
    Lisa Moore, award-winning author of This is How We Love and Caught
  • “This is a work of vocal magic. Through richly drawn characters and vibrant echoes of oral traditions old and new, Michelle Porter shows us the true breadth and resonance of Métis kinship, complete with the gifts and the hurts that move up and down the generations. There is simply no other story like it.”
    Warren Cariou, award-winning author of The Exalted Company of Roadside Martyrs and Lake of the Prairies: A Story of Belonging
  • "A weeping birch grows in front of my house. Its leaves hang down on long, thin branches that, leafless, look like hair. When the sun is out and the winter air stirs, the sun’s rays passing through these branches break into shifting patterns of shadow and light over the house. When I was reading A Grandmother Begins the Story in my front room, that moving light passed through the prismed edge of the front door window and broke into rainbows across the page and they danced with each other and the darkness between them over the writing. I don’t need to find the words to tell you that a story can change the way you belong to the world. Nature and Michelle Porter have done that for me. And they will for you, too."
    Richard Harrison, award-winning poet, author of On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood
  • “Unique. . . . Heavy ties of interdependence energies run through these characters, both human and more-than-human, simultaneously. These are exciting stories attached to the land with identifiable characters that could be one's family members, and it's the land that holds the story and hand of the grandmothers who lead the herd and hold space for life and story after them.”
    Marilyn Dumont, award-winning poet, author of The Pemmican Eaters and A Really Good Brown Girl
  • “Michelle Porter’s A Grandmother Begins the Story blows the doors off the typical family saga... Beautiful and daring.”
    2023 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize Jury
  • "This singular and visionary debut spectacularly reimagines the epic family saga novel. Touching, evocative and kaleidoscopic."
    Ms. Magazine
  • "Michelle Porter weaves an intricate story out of sparse, interlocking poetic fragments in her fiction debut. … [A] beautiful meditation on the interconnectedness of spirit, land and family."
  • "[A] beautiful and affecting debut."
    Shelf Awareness
  • "This brilliant debut novel… explores the importance of intergenerational connections and Indigenous storytelling."
    Electric Literature
  • "I totally fell in love with Porter’s masterful storytelling… Told with the unique musical cadence of a Métis jig…  A Grandmother Begins the Story is a stirring ode to the rhythms of generational exchange."
  • “In this lyrical book, we follow five Métis women confronting the wounds in their relationships with one another… Their many voices shine through in snippets of a few pages at a time to build a family chorus… This choir really drives home the point that no story stands alone, even when an individual storyteller might feel like no one is listening.”
  • A “searingly captivating debut… The tender, tough, funny, and heartbreaking voices of the characters will seep into readers’ souls.”
    Library Journal
  • “Many points of view come together in this haunting, gorgeous tale that traces the roots of an indigenous Canadian family through several generations... Porter has published memoir and poetry, and she plays with the beauty of language and the rhythm of music here. The pulsing heart of the Métis people underlies every short section, creating a patchwork of beads not unlike those the women make."
  • “Memoirist Porter imbues her well-crafted debut novel with her Métis culture’s storytelling traditions… [and] brings a web of interconnected voices to vivid life.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Through lyrical, spiritual storytelling, we see five generations of women in Carter and Allie’s family determined to maintain the thread of their connections to each other and grow their legacy into the future."
  • A Grandmother Begins the Story is a testament to the living, breathing process of passing stories and songs along across the years. A stirring ode to the rhythms of generational exchange, Porter's debut novel shimmers.”
  • “[Porter] expertly weaves together voices and stories like a master.”

On Sale
Nov 7, 2023
Page Count
336 pages
Algonquin Books

Michelle Porter

About the Author

Michelle Porter is the descendent of a long line of Métis storytellers. Many of her ancestors told stories using music and today she tells stories using the written word. Her newest book will be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press this year. Called Scratching River, it’s a memoir that explores the meaning of her Métis heritage through her older brother’s life story. She’s also published a book of poetry, Inquiries (shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for Best Book of Poetry in Canada in 2019), and a book of creative nonfiction about her great grandfather, a fiddler from the Red River, called Approaching Fire (shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Award 2021). She’s the winner of the 2021 Cox & Palmer SPARKS Creative Writing Award. She holds degrees in Journalism (BA), Folklore (MA), English (MA) and Geography (PhD). Her academic research and creative work focus on home, memory, and women’s changing relationships with the land. She has won numerous awards for her poetry and journalism and her work has been published in literary journals and magazines across the country. Currently she is teaching creative writing and Métis Literature at Memorial University. She is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation and she lives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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