Richard Wagamese (1955-2017) was one of Canada’s foremost writers, and one of the leading indigenous writers in North America. He was the author of several acclaimed memoirs and more than a dozen novels, including Medicine Walk and Dream Wheels. His novel Indian Horse was the People’s Choice winner of the national Canada Reads competition in 2013, and its film is currently in development. Wagamese began his career in 1979 as a journalist and worked as a newspaper columnist and reporter, radio and television broadcaster and producer, and documentary producer—both individual works and his body of work have been celebrated with numerous awards, including the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction, and the Matt Cohen Award in Celebration of a Writing Life. Wagamese was honored with Honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops and Lakehead University Bay. He lived in Kamloops, British Columbia.
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Books by Richard Wagamese
Author Q & A
How did you come to storytelling?
I left home at sixteen, and I was effectively homeless from the age of sixteen to twenty-four. I spent the larger part of those years in the shelter of a library reading books—books after books after books. Most of them came from a note pad I carried around in my pocket: I would eavesdrop on conversations and if people were talking about stuff that felt as if it had great weight and consequence I would write that down and take it to the library and ask for books on that subject, and then sit at the table by the window and read them. I gave myself a broad education. I read everything from poetry to astrophysics and all stops in between. It enables me to encounter the power and purpose of words on paper. [Listen to the interview on MPR.org]
Dream Wheels was a bit of a departure from the types of stories you often tell. How so?
I think Dream Wheels was my first effort to step beyond the barriers that we sometimes erect around ourselves in terms of storytelling. As Native American and indigenous authors, we sometimes tend to write stories that involve us being survivors—surviving or transcending some degree of horror or difficulty—and I wanted to create a family who didn’t have any of that. In this novel, nobody’s a drunk, nobody’s homeless, nobody’s going to prison or coming out. Nobody’s doing all these things that sometimes color our narratives. [Listen to the interview on MPR.org]
How do you feel about the word Indian — it’s a complicated word that depends on a lot of things, isn’t it?
I really like what Lenny Bruce said a long time ago, that if the president came on TV and said the N-word over and over till it lost its power, it would just be a word. For me, the way we are referred to by non-aboriginal people doesn’t really have an impact on me because I know who and what I am. Slurs — they just kind of slide off my back these days. I’m too old to pick a fight, I can’t run as fast, and I’m more a man of peace than I was in my younger days. What’s a word, anyways? It’s our weakest form of communication. Our strongest form of communication is our feelings and our spirituality. [Read more at the Edmonton Journal]