Probably Ruby

Toronto Star
Probably Ruby is a work of incredible depth and breadth …. The novel unfolds in a non-linear narrative that Bird-Wilson masterfully weaves together with elegiac prose. It is populated with revelatory passages that are at once beautiful and raw, and demand for you to sit with them a little while …. Her writing is never didactic, always engrossing, and the protagonist is a complex, unforgettable character who will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. Probably Ruby is a timely and important novel every Canadian should read.”

Canadian paperback edition of Probably Ruby to be released in September 2022 in Canada

Relinquished as an infant, Ruby is placed in a foster home and adopted by Alice and Mel, a less-than-desirable couple who can’t afford to complain too loudly about Ruby’s Indigenous roots. But when her new parents’ marriage falls apart, Ruby begins to search, in the unlikeliest of places, for her Indigenous identity.

Unabashedly self-destructing on alcohol, drugs and bad relationships, Ruby grapples with the meaning of the legacy left to her. Seeking understanding of how we come to know who we are, Probably Ruby explores how we find and invent ourselves in ways as peculiar and varied as the experiences of Indigenous adoptees themselves. 

Probably Ruby is an audacious, brave, and beautiful novel, perfectly crafted with exquisitely chosen detail, natural dialogue and emotional control that results in breathtaking levels of tension and points of revelation. Ruby’s voice, her devastating honesty and tremendous laugh will not soon be forgotten.


“In a time when truth is coveted, Probably Ruby is a refreshing reminder of the realities of forced Indigenous adoption and family separation. Bird-Wilson’s writing is at times poetic and ever compelling. We are fortunate to have her and Ruby among us.”
— Julayne Lee, The Washington Post

“Engaging …. Ruby never disappoints with her big heart and outrageous sense of humor—and her resilient search for her own history.”
The New York Times Book Review

Probably Ruby is a work of incredible depth and breadth …. The novel unfolds in a non-linear narrative that Bird-Wilson masterfully weaves together with elegiac prose. It is populated with revelatory passages that are at once beautiful and raw, and demand for you to sit with them a little while …. Her writing is never didactic, always engrossing, and the protagonist is a complex, unforgettable character who will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. Probably Ruby is a timely and important novel every Canadian should read.”
Toronto Star

“A searing fictional portrait of intergenerational trauma, embodied by the unforgettable Ruby and her search for her Indigenous kin …. This is a heartbreaking and revelatory work about the meaning of family, and the pain we pass through generations, as inescapable as blood.”

“Moving …. Each chapter is vivid and contains a satisfying resolution …. Readers will be carried along by Ruby’s vitality and perseverance. This is well worth a look.”
Publishers Weekly

“A bighearted portrait of an Indigenous woman whose transracial adoption spurs a lifelong quest to discover—or perhaps create—her identity …. An unsparing exploration of the injustices wrought by misogyny and settler colonialism.”
Kirkus Reviews

“In Probably Ruby, Lisa Bird-Wilson explores the deep vulnerability inherent in having no sense of one’s place in the world and particularly the Indigenous world. Bird-Wilson effectively captures the sadness, anger, loneliness and alienation that Indigenous children lost to the child-welfare system are plagued by as they search for a sense of meaning and identity. In turns raw, tender, funny, despairing and hopeful, Probably Ruby tells a story that needs hearing.”
— Michelle Good, author of Five Little Indians

“In Probably Ruby, Lisa Bird-Wilson takes us along on a woman’s deeply poignant journey in search of self, identity, and the reclaiming of an Indigenous heritage that had been taken from her. In Ruby’s story, we see the powerful threads of family in one’s life that can shape, even from afar. This story will stay with you.”
— Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of Sarong Party Girls

“Writing from the depths of her heart, Lisa Bird-Wilson has gifted us a passionate exploration of identity and belonging and a celebration of our universal desire to love and be loved.”
— Imbolo Mbue, author of Behold the Dreamers and How Beautiful We Were

“In this time of crises and isolation, I’ve come to cherish Probably Ruby.  It details legacies of struggle without giving in to spectacle.  It illuminates, in language of deepest care and artistic exactness, the diverse relations and irreducible complexity of an unforgettable life.  Lisa Bird-Wilson is someone I urge you to read.”
— David Chariandy, author of Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

“Lisa Bird-Wilson holds all her characters with such compassion, even when they go spectacularly off-course, they remain sympathetic in this wildly electric novel.  Each fragment builds a provocative mosaic, refusing easy redemption, embracing Ruby’s complex, volatile emotional landscape with masterstrokes of observation and insight.” 
— Eden Robinson, author of the Trickster Trilogy

“Soft as it is hard, Probably Ruby reminds us how displacement comes to be commonplace in the lives of some. Never before have I seen a writer represent the constellation of people impacted by this kind of fractured kinship with such righteous critique that is at once restrained and nuanced. Each member of Ruby’s web of people is shaped with care, empathy, and grace—even the most unforgivable ones. Simply put, Lisa Bird-Wilson’s book is one of the very best things I’ve ever read about adoption, race, and want.”
— Jenny Heijun Wills, author of Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.

“It’s a brilliant piece that takes Indigenous literature in some fascinating new directions. Lisa is an extraordinary stylist, and this novel explores Indigenous women’s lives in a way that is empowering and that doesn’t follow the usual tropes of trauma and victimization. I think of her as a Michif Alice Munro.”
 — Warren Cariou, author of Lake of the Prairies

“Reminiscent of Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed, Robert Arthur Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls and Beatrice Culleton’s In Search of April Raintree, Probably Ruby is shrapnel to the heart: triggering, maddening, enraging and fearless!”
 — Richard Van Camp

“The glass-shattering honesty in the voice, the half-hidden anguish that sears the page. Spare writing, sparing no one. The audacity of Lisa Bird Wilson’s writing—brave, taut, exacting—leaves the reader altered. This story made me catch my breath, made my heart flip-flop in my chest.”
 — Lisa Moore, 2017 Jack Hodgins Founders’ Award for Fiction Judge

“I loved Ruby and getting to know her through the people she encountered…I loved how the novel unfolded touching on everything from abuse to Ruby’s complicated sexuality. I loved the humanity and authenticity of her character as well as the other characters in the novel. I felt for all of them, even the dastardly because we are all products of our circumstances, the love we receive or don’t receive.”
 — Stella Harvey, author of Finding Callidora

Probably Ruby reminds us that our stories are acts of survival. That ‘it’s not so much a question of what [we] inherit but what [we] do with it.’ That grief, too, can be a gift. Written in prose to be savored, Bird-Wilson’s novel and its heroine will stay with me for a long time.”
— Kelli Jo Ford, author of Crooked Hallelujah

“Told from different viewpoints, this multifaceted narrative sparkles with life as we piece together Ruby’s story, starting before she is even born. It is utterly heartbreaking that we see parts of Ruby’s life that she herself cannot perceive, a compelling chord that stays with us throughout the novel. This is a beautiful, unusual and insightful story about the lost pieces of one woman’s life and Indigenous identity.”
— Christy Lefteri, author of Songbirds and The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Probably Ruby, was released August 24, 2021 by Doubleday Canada and in the USA by Hogarth/Random House April 5, 2022

Just Pretending

A debut short story collection from one of Canada’s most exciting new Indigenous voices. “In our family, it was Trish who was Going To Be Trouble; I was Such a Good Girl.” At times haunting, at times hilarious, Just Pretending explores the moments in life that send us down pathways predetermined and not-yet-forged. These are the liminal, defining moments that mark irreversible transitions of girl to mother, confinement to freedom, wife to murderer. They are the melodramatic car-crash moments of the outcomes both horrific and too fascinating to tear our eyes from. And they are the unnoticed, infinitely tiny moments, seemingly insignificant (even ridiculous) yet holding the power to alter, to transform, to make strange. What links these stories is a sense of characters working both with success and without, through action or reaction to separate reality from perception and to make these moments into their lives’ new truths.

Book Club Questions/Discussion

Praise for Just Pretending

“…the stories and characters are so alive, and the writing is so beautiful in its stripped-down simplicity. And it is not all darkness—there are plenty of characters in tough situations who exhibit the insight, ironic wittiness, and random joy that, again, real people in tough situations experience.” Amy Mitchell, The Temz Review

“Bird-Wilson brilliantly exposes the Metis experience in a way that’s both critical and loving, but she also universalizes the struggles of her characters across race, gender and age. Lisa Bird-Wilson is a talented writer whose stories are deep and difficult, darkly amusing and always touching. Just Pretending is a collection that is not to be missed.” – PRISM Magazine

“Bird-Wilson hides nothing. Her language is precise and minimalistic. That is not to say her writing is simple. Her words are expertly crafted, poetic even. Bird-Wilson speaks withan inviting voice, drawing us into each tale.” Devin Pacholik, Pages and Patches

Reviews for Just Pretending:—review-of-lisa-bird-wilsons-just-pretending.html

The Red Files

This debut poetry collection from Lisa Bird-Wilson reflects on the legacy of the residential school system: the fragmentation of families and histories, with blows that resonate through the generations.

Inspired by family and archival sources, Bird-Wilson assembles scraps of a history torn apart by colonial violence. The collection takes its name from the federal government’s complex organizational structure of residential schools archives, which are divided into “black files” and “red files.” In vignettes as clear as glass beads, her poems offer affection to generations of children whose presence within the historic record is ghostlike, anonymous and ephemeral.

The collection also explores the larger political context driving the mechanisms that tore apart families and cultures, including the Sixties Scoop. It depicts moments of resistance, both personal and political, as well as official attempts at reconciliation: “I can hold in the palm of my right hand / all that I have left: one story-gift from an uncle, / a father’s surname, treaty card, Cree accent echo, metal bits, grit– / and I will still have room to cock a fist.”

The Red Files concludes with a fierce hopefulness, embracing the various types of love that can begin to heal the traumas inflicted by a legacy of violence.

Praise for The Red Files:

“Indeed, the duty towards truly authentic reconciliation to which Bird-Wilson calls the reader is made plain in her poem “The Apology”: “you apologize for having done this / thing that is still in the doing”. In creating this powerful testament to the humanity of those who have suffered at the hands of colonialism, the author has made a resolute call for the rectifying of wrongs which continue to this day, to this country’s shame. At a time in which discussions of what reconciliation is and should be are ongoing, Lisa Bird-Wilson’s The Red Files is a powerful, timely call to action.”  Ethan Vilu, Nod Magazine

“One achievement of The Red Files is that it dares to make palpable not only truths of the traumas Indigenous peoples experienced from genocide and attempted genocide, but it conveys the vulnerability of Bird-Wilson’s own questioning around the process of reconciliation. The collection continues to invite readers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to experience parallel journeys. In “Sweep,” one of the final poems, the speaker says, “I have to live with the memory: …/ and the question/ what does it mean to be full of grace/ … and make things out of your hands” (75)”. River Volta Review of Books

Reviews/Interviews for The Red Files:

An Institute of Our Own:
A History of the Gabriel Dumont Institute

In the early 1970s Saskatchewan was a hotbed of Native activism. Inspired by examples from the Red Power and American Indian movements, Saskatchewan’s Métis and Non-Status Indians took up various forms of public protest, including road blocks, sit-ins, and occupations of government buildings as a means of drawing attention to the most pressing Native issues. Jobs and education were top concerns; Native people were faced with harsh economic and social conditions, and Native leaders could see that education was the key to improving peoples’ lives. The activism of the early ’70s sowed the seeds for the eventual development of the Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI)—Canada’s first, largest, and most prominent Métis institute. Breaking ground as the first wholly-owned and operated Métis-specific Institute, GDI is also unique because of its dual focus to provide for the education and training needs of the province’s Métis and to preserve and promote Métis history and culture.

In clear and precise prose, Lisa Bird-Wilson chronicles the Institute’s history from the early activism of the ’70s to the celebration of the Institute’s 30th anniversary in 2010. Her account includes details of a financial crisis that nearly killed the Institute and the rebuilding that followed. Based on personal interviews with many of the Institute’s founders and champions, Bird-Wilson paints a compelling picture of the issues, the times, and the people involved with building one of the Métis Nation’s treasures.