RD Interview: Wab Kinew

The author of “The Reason You Walk” talks Canada Reads, dream interviews and what it’s like to hear Paul McCartney address you by name.

RD Interview: Wab KinewIllustration by Aimee Van Drimmelen

Is it fair to say that Canada Reads is Survivor for bookworms?
It is a classic reality-show format. We start with five books, with five prominent Canadians defending them. Each day, we vote off a book until we’re left with one. Breaking barriers is this year’s theme.

Last year, you defended Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda and won the competition. Any advice for the 2015 advocates?
The contest benefits the well-prepared. I sat with every one of the books and read them very thoroughly. I considered strengths and weaknesses. I went online and tested out different arguments, measuring the amount of likes, retweets, favourites. Social media was my polling group.

This edition pits a singer (Martha Wainwright) against an actress (Kristin Kreuk) against a movie guru (Cameron Bailey) against an activist (Craig Kielburger) against a professional gossip (Elaine Lui). Who’s got the edge?
The only thing I’ll say is that a person who’s super well-known is probably super busy-they may expect to coast on charisma, but you need substance as well as style. This is more than a show about books and a chance to celebrate Canadian authors. It’s an opportunity to address issues you care about in front of a national audience.

In 2012 you hosted a series called 8th Fire about the need to improve relations between First Nations and the rest of Canada. Three years on, do you see progress?
There has been more attention paid to political issues like Idle No More and First Nations education in the mainstream media. Musicians like A Tribe Called Red and writers like Boyden and Richard Wagamese are crossing over. We have a long way to go, but I think many Canadians are starting to engage with these issues in a meaningful way.

You recently filled in as the host of Q on CBC Radio. You’re hosting Canada Reads. You’re a musician and a social activist. The comparisons to Jian Ghomeshi are inevitable. How have you handled that?

My approach is just to be straight-up and do my best to deal with it. With Canada Reads, it doesn’t make sense to speak specifically about what happened. I don’t have insight into Ghomeshi’s case. But I do feel like I’m watching the broader conversation, whether it’s around Q, Bill Cosby or the NFL, and it seems like a good chance to speak about sexual misconduct and gender violence.

On a lighter note, you got to interview Paul McCartney!
That was huge. I’m not a diehard Beatles fan, but I have tremendous respect for the band. To hear McCartney say “Hey, Wab” was like, whaaaa! I felt warm and fuzzy.

If I’m a guest genie and I can grant you your dream guests, who would they be?
Edward Snowden and Barack Obama, for sure.

I thought you were going to say Rihanna. I hear you have a crush on her.
Ha! Yeah, but where do I take that?

Canada Reads runs from March 16 to 19.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada