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Horse girl Braudie Blais-Billie earns glowing reviews for essay

Braudie Blais-Billie at a family member’s property in Quebec, Canada. (Courtesy photo)

After a childhood spent riding horses, Braudie Blais-Billie identifies as a horse girl. When she found a call for submissions of essays for a book written by and about horse girls, Blais-Billie jumped at the chance.

Her essay “Unconquered” was accepted. It is now part of a 14-essay anthology edited by Halimah Marcus titled “Horse Girls.”

Marcus wanted to include as many diverse perspectives as possible in the anthology and reached out to Native American and First Nations women who identify as horse girls.

“I am a horse girl,” said Blais-Billie, who lives in Brooklyn, New York. “They are such a big part of my life and have been forever, but I never thought about it that way. I started an internal monologue about gender, class, ethnicity. It was a great medium to explore those ideas about myself.”

Blais-Billie has been a journalist and editor since she graduated from Columbia University in 2016, but this is the first time her creative writing has been published. She is currently working toward a master of fine arts in fiction at Columbia, so she is taking a hiatus from most of her journalism assignments.

“I’ve always loved writing, but was influenced that pursuing a creative endeavor or being an artist wasn’t the smartest thing,” she said. “I took the leap into what I’ve always wanted to do; fiction and short stories. That’s the life goal.”

Writers with an array of styles and genres influenced Blais-Billie. They include Carmen Maria Machado, who also contributed to the book, Sheila Heti, Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) and Tommy Orange (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma).

“As an urban Native, I related to [Orange’s novel ‘There There’] so hard,” Blais-Billie said. “It’s an amazing book, really smart, funny and shocking.”

Living in New York City has been eye-opening for Blais-Billie. It’s the first place she lived away from the Hollywood Reservation.

“I was exposed to a different culture and became aware of how different my life growing up was from most people in America,” she said. “People here are inspired to reach their dreams and work really hard. Surprisingly, there are a lot of Natives here from all over the country; some are people I met at Columbia who stayed here. It’s very multicultural and it’s cool how everyone really meshes here.”

Reviews

“Horse Girls” has received numerous positive reviews in outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Publishers Weekly.

The Los Angeles Times’ review read in part, “In ‘Unconquered,’ … Braudie Blais-Billie, born to a Seminole father and a mother from Quebec, thinks back to the love of horses she shared with her white grandparents. Their family rides were a balm for ‘the wound that their casual othering left behind.’ In adulthood she learns that she descends from a horse-riding Seminole dynasty, building a bridge back to her late father, who painfully self-destructed on the Rez.”

Publishers Weekly wrote: “‘Unconquered’” sees Braudie Blais-Billie musing on horses as a symbol of indigenous resilience and survival.”

An Amazon review noted: “… it showcases powerful emerging voices like Braudie Blais-Billlie, on the connection between her Seminole and Quebecois heritage.”

The Washington Post review read: “This is no collection of cliché musings about the bond between horse and human. These are essays – cerebral, emotional and deeply intimate – by writers including Jane Smiley, T Kira Madden, Maggie Shipstead and Carmen Maria Machado, all of whom have had a formative relationship with horses. … They represent such a refreshing diversity of voices, there’s a story here for just about everyone.”

‘Unconquered’

This is the opening paragraph of Blais-Billie’s essay “Unconquered.”

“Growing up on the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hollywood Reservation, everyone called us “the Frenchies.” This was because, since I was around eight years old, my mother — a French-Canadian woman conspicuously named France — raised me and my two younger siblings as a single parent on the Rez. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, she stood out at every basketball game and community holiday dinner. “That’s your mom?” my neighbor asked when she picked me up from an after-school playdate down the street. “I look more like my dad,” I offered. It was true. My father and I had the same almond-shaped eyes and sleek brunette ponytail hanging down our backs. Reserved yet mischievous, he oscillated between cracking jokes and reading World War II books in his room; from him, I inherited my quiet, curious nature.”

“Horse Girls,” published by Harper Perennial, is available for purchase online through several outlets, including Harper Collins, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and Walmart.

Braudie Blais-Billie has had a lifelong affection for horses. (Courtesy photo)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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