Rest in Power, Richard Wagamese

Milkweed Staff — 03/11/2017


Milkweed Editions is deeply saddened to report that Richard Wagamese passed away in his home on Friday, March 10, 2017. He was 61.

Wagamese was the author of more than 15 books ranging across fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including the novels Medicine Walk, Dream Wheels, and Indian Horse. Much of his work drew from his own struggle with family dysfunction that he attributed to the isolating government- and church-run schools, attended by his parents and extended family members. Wagamese called himself a second-generation survivor of these experiences.

Wagamese was born in 1955 in the Ojibway Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He was removed from his family by the Children’s Aid Society as part of the Sixties Scoop and ended up in foster care in suburban Toronto. He struggled for many years before going on a traditional Ojibway camping trip when he was 22 years old, where an elder told him he had the gift for storytelling.

He began his writing career in 1979, first as a journalist, then as a radio and television broadcaster. In 1991, he became the first Indigenous writer to win a National Newspaper Award for column writing.

His debut novel, Keeper ‘n Me, came out in 1994 and won the Alberta Writers Guild’s Best Novel Award. Indian Horse was a finalist for Canada Reads in 2013, which brought his work to even wider acclaim. Medicine Walk, released in the United States in 2015 by Milkweed Editions, was described as “less written than painstakingly etched into something more permanent than paper” by the New York Times.

In recent years, Wagamese received the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, as well as the Matt Cohen Award in Celebration of a Writing Life. Watch his powerful acceptance speech here:

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In his reflection on being a writer, Richard Wagaemse reminds us of—in his words—the “immaculate measure of grace” it is to be a storyteller whose work touches and changes the lives of readers.

“I was incredibly saddened to hear the new of Richard’s passing. He was one of those authors that you feel like you came to know personally through their writing and he was absolutely someone I wish I could claim as a friend. Medicine Walk was hands down my favorite novel of 2015 and I’ll be shocked to ever come across another author that moved me as much as he did with that heartbreaking story. There is not a single wasted piece of prose in the entire novel. Dream Wheels delivers a primal weight and intensity to match anything Faulker ever wrote. He was a storyteller of the finest tradition and my hope is that in his passing, he will gain the richly deserved recognition here in the US he received in his home country of Canada.” —Tom Beans, owner of Dudley’s Bookstore Café in Bend, OR

In a tweet this morning, CBC News host and Wagamese’s friend Shelagh Rogers said, “Heartbroken over the death of my friend and chosen brother Richard Wagamese. He was story. He was love. RIP dear one.” Read her full remembrance»

The literary community will mourn the loss of Wagamese’s masterful and deeply felt voice, which brought forth vital stories of tradition, restoration, and humanity.