The University of North Carolina at Pembroke has wrapped the 2021-2022 Distinguished Speaker Series with Indigenous author Angeline Boulley. This year’s series,  coordinated by UNCP’s Campus Engagement and Leadership Center, featured esteemed guests such as Jessie Cole, Tommy Orange, Bakari Sellers, and Dr. Megan Rooney. When deciding who would close the series, Boulley was an obvious choice; her debut novel The Firekeeper’s Daughter has become an instant No.1 New York Times Bestseller, and YA pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club. It was the winner of the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, the Printz Award, the William C. Morris Award for Young Adult Debut Literature, and an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book. 

Boulley was welcomed at the James T. Hall Building in the Upchurch Auditorium with a warm welcome from the audience, as they stood, clapped, and cheered as she walked across the stage to her seat. Boulley is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, something that is reflected in her writing – she often chooses to write about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  During the interview, she was asked about how her cultural and tribal background impacts her writing, and how she balances her identity as an Indigenous writer and as an Indigenous woman, to which she provided her quote: “I write to preserve my culture, and I edit to protect it,” a philosophy that she strives to honor as she continues to produce Indigenous representative material. Though she did not state if she struggled with her own identity, the main character of The Firekeeper’s Daughter often struggles with deciding which world she belongs in. By creating a biracial character, Boulley wanted to give representation to all types of Indigenous people, outside of the stereotypical image that is often given to Indigenous characters in literature. Throughout the interview, she also answered questions about her writing process, her journey to becoming a writer, the meaning of different parts of the book and its characters, and her inspiration for the novel itself. 
Boulley stated that she began writing the book almost as a “mid-life crisis,” and when she realized that she wanted to do all the things that she had been putting off. In her case, this included writing a book representative of her Indigenous community. Boulley is not an English major, and never took any classes on writing, but she found that just by reading, she was able to learn how to put stories together and make them interesting. She reads each book twice, once to understand the techniques used, and another time to understand the content. As a self-taught writer but born storyteller, Boulley works to use her skills to bring representation to Indigenous tribes and culture through her characters and language. 
The novel follows the life of biracial and unenrolled Daunis Fontaine, who finds her life turned upside down after witnessing the murder of her best friend Lily. Lily was murdered by her boyfriend, who subsequently committed suicide after carrying out the murder. Due to her closeness to the situation, as well as her personal relationship to the investigator’s previous criminal informant, Daunis agrees to go undercover to assist with the investigation of the community’s methamphetamine ring. During her time undercover, Daunis finds herself in several precarious situations that are often life-threatening. 
Throughout the story, not only does Daunis solve many of the mysteries in her community and uncover more dark secrets, she also discovers herself. Being half-white and half-Indigenous impacted Daunis’ ability to find her place within her community. However, through the events and relationships explored in the book, Daunis comes to understand her place within the community and accepts it. 
When asked about the structure of the book, Boulley explained that she used a four-act structure modeled on the Indigenous medicine wheel to “tell the hero’s journey from an Indigenous female perspective…using the medicine wheel as a cultural framework in telling that story.” Though the medicine wheel can represent different things, for the purpose of the book Boulley used colors (red, white, black, and yellow) to coincide with the four directions (east, west, north, south). The medicine wheel is important to many, if not all tribes, across the nation, and its role in the book is equally as important. Boulley’s discussion primarily focused on The Firekeeper’s Daughter and the process of creating the book, though, at times, she did give the audience some more personal information outside of the novel. For instance, she stated that she rewards herself with jewelry as her success with the book continues to grow. 
Whether she was being asked a mundane question or one that was highly specific, Boulley answered each question in detail and with respect to the host. Boulley was often comedic and made jokes with the audiences, a choice which relaxed the atmosphere and made the conversation seem more intimate and personal. Due to the close proximity of the crowd to Boulley, she was able to speak with and look directly at the crowd as she made her way through the interview. 

Despite some minor feedback from Boulley’s microphone, she was easy to hear and understand as she spoke, as the feedback was not enough to be considered disruptive. The stage was fairly empty, with only the host’s and Boulley’s white chairs in the center, along with a small table between them for their drinks. The arrangement, though it felt empty at times, made for a personal and effective conversation between Boulley and the host, as well as, Boulley and the audience, even when they were not speaking directly to one another. As with each of the speakers in the series, the hour-long interview ended with questions from the audience, aided by the event’s organizer, Abdul Ghaffar, who moved around the auditorium with a microphone. 

This event was not streamed live or made virtually accessible. However, a meet-and-greet was available by invitation before the event began. This opportunity gave participants to speak with Boulley one-on-one and ask her questions that they may not have had the chance to ask during the interview.  Boulley’s interview, though it is the last for the season, served as an opportunity for students and members of the community to come together and learn from an author whose main goal was to create a platform for other Indigenous authors, as well as, speak out against issues that she found important and believed deserved a platform to be addressed. Boulley’s accomplishments were put on display throughout the night, but ultimately her belief in others who have dreams of representing their culture through writing. 

Boulley’s next novel has not been officially announced, but according to her, is in the works. The Firekeeper’s Daughter is currently in the process of being adapted into a Netflix film by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground.