Ivan Coyote is the award-winning author of eleven books, the creator of four short films and three albums, and a self-described 'road dog' who spends around 200 days each year on tour.

Through storytelling and music, public speaking and performance, Ivan's work addresses issues of gender, identity and class with aplomb, skill, and warmth. Their latest book, Tomboy Survival Guide, weaves personal anecdotes of first loves, the complexities and nuance of gender identity, and navigating a sometimes narrow-minded world in such a way that might just move you tears.

Ahead of their appearance at the Sydney Writers' Festival, get to know Ivan a little better.

SWF: I'd like to start by asking how you became a writer. Was it a vocation or an accident?

Ivan Coyote: I think I knew by grade seven, or around 12 years old, that I wanted to be a writer, and then I added musician in grade eight when I started band class. I was never a prodigy, but I worked at it hard and I loved it.


How have your goals in terms of the writer or performer you want to be changed over the years?

I would like to write another novel. It's been a couple of years, and six collections of short stories since Bow Grip in 2007. I'd like to have the time off of the road to really get into working on a longer project again. I'd like to tour less in Canada, and more internationally. I'd like to take guitar lessons, and ukulele lessons and resume the saxophone lessons I was taking for a while a couple of years ago. I was playing bari in a funk band but I had to step down because I couldn't keep up with the band and my own touring and performing. It was too much. But I miss playing that horn on the regular.


Your book, Tomboy Survival Guide, has been met with such love from the community. In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

I was going to have illustrations but the money ran out and we didn't have enough usable material from the artist I had hired, so I went with images I gathered from manuals that were 50 years and older. I don't know exactly what the book I thought it was going to be would have looked like, but I do know that I worked harder on Tomboy Survival Guide than I did any of my other books, by a steep margin. I proof-read the galleys multiple times. I wanted it to be perfect. I drove the designer nearly around the bend with it. I even tweaked the second edition, which went to print barely a month after the first edition. I wanted it to be my Joni Mitchell Blue. My heart project.


As a musician and performer, what's the most rewarding part of being on the road?

The people.


Which writers do you most admire and why?

Roxane Gay. Fearless. Lidia Yuknavitch. Also fearless. Eden Robinson. Because she writes what she loves, always. Zoe Whitall. Not afraid of hard subjects and can treat them with nuance. Mariko Tamaki. Humour and whimsy. Donna Morrissey. Her sense of place and how that carves out its characters.


What books are currently on your nightstand?

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, milk and honey by Rupi Kaur, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, Conflict Is Not Abuse by Sarah Schulman, City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.


For me, refuge is…

Refuge has a fireplace and an axe to cut kindling with. Refuge smells like a roast chicken in the oven. Refuge is a pot of soup on the stove. Refuge is a ripe mango. A quiet corner of the library. Refuge is a gender-neutral washroom in a busy airport. Refuge has a lock on the door. Refuge means something different for me because I have never been homeless. I've never lived where a bomb has been dropped. Refuge doesn't get cell service.


Is there book (or piece of writing) that you consider to be your sanctuary?

There are many. I have a shelf of sanctuary in my office. Another in my bedroom.


What physical environment is your favourite place to read?

The beach. Second place goes to my bed, with clean sheets on it.