(Photo: Michael is the one at the far right in this picture. The boy wearing the hat is his brother Jose.)
Michael Kusugak grew up in Repulse Bay, a small village in the Northwest Territories. "I’ve always been close to the land, the sea and the animals,” he says. “I want to teach everything I know about how to live here, and write about everything kids like to do."
During his childhood, Michael’s family traveled by dog team; they lived in igloos in the winter and tents in the summer. He had no access to books as a child, and didn't speak a word of English until he was seven. “Every night, my grandma would tell us a story to put us to sleep,” he recalls. In 1954, a float plane whisked Michael off to a residential school in Chesterfield Inlet. “When you're seven years old and hauled away from your parents, it's very hard. I cried the whole year I was there—that’s all I remember. The following fall, when the airplane came again, I went and hid in the hills. I didn't go to school that year.” Michael went on to become one of the first Inuit from the eastern Arctic to graduate from high school, piecing together his education in Rankin Inlet, Yellowknife, Churchill and Saskatoon.
While in school, Michael enjoyed writing stories and poems, but he never thought of becoming an author until he met Robert Munsch. “He stayed with us during Children’s Book Week once, and I told him all kinds of legends. He suggested that I write them down, so we worked on one together, and eventually it was published!” That story, A Promise is a Promise, is based on one of Michael’s childhood memories. He explains, “I take things that are native to me, such as the northern lights, and create a story around them.”
Michael has since published many other titles, including Baseball Bats for Christmas, Hide and Sneak, Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails, My Arctic 1,2,3, Arctic Stories and Who Wants Rocks?— all of which are stunningly complemented by Vladyana Langer Krykorka's artwork. Northern Lights won the Ruth Schwartz Award in 1994. A Promise is a Promise and Northern Lights have been developed as CD-ROMs.
Prior to writing books for children, Michael spent 15 years working for the government in various positions. In his last posting he was Director of Community Programs for Arctic College. Now he devotes his time to writing, storytelling and speaking to educators. In 1997 he shared his stories at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto, during the run of a double-feature stage presentation: Michael Kusugak's Stories of the Inuit and A Promise is a Promise.
One of the most rewarding experiences for Michael is visiting children in schools and at libraries. He mesmerizes young audiences with narratives from his Arctic home and tales told with string. He also enjoys hunting, fishing, boating and looking out his study window at the northern landscape stretching towards the horizon.