Q&A with Writer Andrea Warner on Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography

Writer and music critic Andrea Warner shares some details about the first authorized biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie.

September 21, 2018

By Daniela Becerril

A deep connection and copious time spent with the living legend Buffy Sainte-Marie allowed Andrea Warner to capture Buffy’s innermost thoughts and life experiences in an inspiring and consciousness-raising chronicle of her life through her music. Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography hits the shelves on September 25 and these are the details the acclaimed author shared with us.

Q: Already knowing there are many remarkable things in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s life, what will make us want to read this biography?

A: Buffy Sainte-Marie has led a remarkable life, and I don’t think people really know the half of it. It’s not just her songwriting and music, or her activism and philanthropy, or her advocacy for Indigenous people. It’s how all of those areas intersect and influence each other. She’s also incredibly funny, inspiring, and thoughtful, and she really opened up about her life in a way she never has before. Her story is also very empowering, and I think it will be a book that will resonate with everybody in some way.

Q: Did you have a personal connection to her music or work before writing this book?

A: I knew about her music but I didn’t know much about her growing up. I mean, everybody in Canada sort of knows Buffy Sainte-Marie, and I knew about some of her songs, but not any kind of meaningful understanding. I started researching more about Buffy when I began working for CBC Music, and I was kind of astounded at how little credit she got as a musical innovator. I was also kind of mad at how little the media had written about her, and how she was so often erased from rock history compared to her peers.

Q: What lead you to this project?

A: I love Buffy’s music, and we had a great conversation when Power in the Blood came out. Neither of us wanted to get off the phone. I felt like Buffy’s music had never quite gotten the respect or attention it deserved, and I wanted to talk to her about her life and how she’s been mapping the things she cares about in her songs for 50-plus years. Also, there have been about 70 books on Bob Dylan and only one on Buffy Sainte-Marie, and frankly, that’s just an outrageous injustice.

Q: How did it all come together? Did you approach Buffy, did she approach you?

A: It actually came out of a different little pitch I made to Greystone. They asked if I’d be interested in writing a biography of any of the people in my pitch, and I said yes, absolutely, Buffy Sainte-Marie. In fact, after I published my first book, the main question people asked me was ‘What’s next?’ and I kept saying, ‘I’d love to eventually write an authorized bio of Buffy.’ So Greystone asked me to find out if there was any interest from Buffy’s team, and they got back to me quite quickly that there was. I met Buffy a few weeks later in Richmond because she happened to be here for a conference, and we talked for two hours. It turned out she was a fan of my first book! And then we started interviews for the biography about six weeks after that.

Q: Why was now the right time to tell Buffy Sainte-Marie’s story?

A: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s music has never been more relevant, and her advocacy and activism is as vitally important now as it was in the ’60s. It was also the right time because it felt right to her. She was ready and she was such a great collaborator. Her fingerprints are all over the book. It’s an analysis of her life through her music, and vice versa, and hers is exactly the voice we need right now.

Q: What was the experience of working with Buffy Sainte-Marie like?

A: It was amazing. It was daunting, of course, because her life is incredible and so much about her experiences is relatively unknown. I wanted to make sure I didn’t just earn her trust, but I wanted to make sure I deserved her trust. And I love laughing with her. We share a sense of humour and a sense of hope, I think, and it’s been such a privilege to build a friendship with her, one conversation at a time.

Q: Buffy Sainte-Marie is an incredibly prolific and productive person, was it intimidating to work with someone who has accomplished so much?

A: It’s always intimidating to work with people you respect so much, you don’t want to look like a dummy, you know? But Buffy’s very humble, she’s not interested in any ass-kissers or getting a swelled head or anything. She keeps it very real, so that helps take away the intimidation factor.

Q: What do you think makes Buffy Sainte-Marie’s story special?

A: Buffy’s resilience and her sense of self. Her story comes partly out of trauma, but it also comes from a place of warmth and love and hope. She also makes necessary connections between colonization and the toxic hierarchies of capitalist greed, the patriarchy, racism, and other forms of systemic oppression. This is a story that might actually help to heal us in this hard world we live in and move us toward decolonization.

Q: What do you think Buffy Sainte-Marie’s legacy is within the Canadian music scene?

A: She’s an icon, of course, but even though she’s beloved, a lot of people really don’t know just how diverse, daring, and innovative her music is. They think they know Buffy Sainte-Marie, but I think this book will help deepen people’s appreciation for and connection to her music. I hope people read this book and then immediately do a massive deep dive into Buffy’s discography.

Q: What are your takeaways?

A: Buffy has forever changed me. I learned about moving through life in a more conscious way. Building up instead of tearing down.

Q: Do you know what Buffy Saint-Marie is working on now?

A: Well, Buffy and I are going on a week-long tour together for the book, which kicks off here in Vancouver at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. She’s also touring in support of her last two records, Medicine Songs and Power in the Blood. And honestly, Buffy is always working on a bunch of things all the time. She’s such a creative, curious, artistic person. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Pre-order the book at your local bookstore and don’t miss the opportunity meet Warner and Sainte-Marie at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

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