On Tuesday, January 18, Angeline Boulley, who made her debut with the YA novel Firekeeper’s Daughter last year, was busy doing what authors do. She had just submitted the first 100 pages of her second book to Jess Harold, her new editor at Henry Holt (her original editor, Tiffany Liao, left the company last year). “She asked if I was available for a call that evening, that she needed to discuss something about my pages,” Boulley recalled. “I immediately started thinking ‘what is going on?’ I saw that my agent had also been copied on the email and had accepted the invite to the call, and I was just worried about what was wrong with my pages.”
When Boulley signed into Zoom, “I was surprised to see all of the squares filled with people I didn’t recognize at first,” she said. “And then I thought there must be something really wrong with my pages because these people seem like they may be... attorneys? My imagination goes to some really dark places sometimes. And then of course the chairperson let me know that they were there on behalf of the Printz committee.”
Relieved that it was a “good” video call after all, Boulley figured that the committee was notifying her that she was getting a Printz Honor. “When they said that I had won, I started crying,” Boulley said. “I told them, ‘I know what this means.’ And I meant it as—of course I know what the Printz Award is. But what it means for a debut Native author to win it—I knew that it was larger than myself. That’s what I immediately thought of and I was so happy about it.”
Following lots of congratulations, as everyone else started to get off the call, Boulley expected her editor and agent to stay on the call to talk about her pages. “But when my editor left the Zoom, too, I was like, ‘Oh... it was just a ruse!’ ”
Boulley and Harold talked again a bit later and Harold proposed gathering virtually the next night for a champagne toast to celebrate. “I had my parents come over and I had the screen sharing so they could see it on the TV in the living room,” Boulley said. “I got on the call and there were all these people, squares on the Zoom, but it was a different committee, and they were there to tell me that I had won the [William C.] Morris award! I was like, they did it to me again!”
Meanwhile, her parents were observing the call, ready to raise a glass to their daughter’s Printz win. “My dad looked at me and he goes, ‘I thought you already won?’ I had to mute myself [on the call] and tell him ‘This is a different award.’ ”
In addition to winning the Printz and the Morris awards, Firekeeper’s Daughter was named a Young Adult Honor Book in the 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Award category. With all that excitement swirling around her last week, and the official announcement of the awards a few days away, “It was pretty hard to stay quiet through the weekend,” Boulley admitted.
Firekeeper’s Daughter is a thriller following 18-year-old science nerd Daunis in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as she goes undercover to help the FBI find the source of a deadly new street drug threatening her hometown and the nearby Ojibwe reservation. The book burst onto the scene, garnering warm critical praise and landing on bestseller lists. Boulley was named a PW Flying Start, and her novel will soon be adapted as a Netflix TV project from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground.
For Boulley, who is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and has worked for the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education, Firekeeper’s Daughter is the culmination of a story about Native identity that began percolating in her heart and imagination long ago. “My story has been with me since I was 18 years old,” she says. “To realize that that spark of an idea is now the Printz Award winner—I still can’t wrap my head around that. It’s easier for me, I guess, to wrap my head around what this means for Native American literature, and what it does to increase awareness and hopefully understanding about how different our Indigenous communities are, and just the power of a book to have people know about my community and teachings and to see how beautiful they are. I’m delightfully surprised when non-Native people reach out to me and let me know how much they connected with Daunis and with other characters in the book. I love that.”
Though she hasn’t technically enjoyed that glass of champagne just yet, Boulley does plan to mark the occasion. “I’m really glad that my parents are here to celebrate with me,” she said, noting that they live about a block away from her in New Buffalo, Mich. “And I have been known to buy a ring or two to celebrate accomplishments and will definitely be on the lookout for something special.”
In the meantime, she’s working on an as-yet-untitled follow-up she calls Book Two, which she characterizes as not a traditional sequel, scheduled for winter 2023. “It takes place in a different year and has a different main character,” Boulley explains, “but you’ll see familiar faces. And if the elevator pitch for Firekeeper’s Daughter was ‘Indigenous Nancy Drew,’ I would say that the pitch for Book Two is ‘Indigenous Lara Croft,’ but instead of raiding tombs, the main character is raiding museums to bring ancestors home.”