Remembering Richard Wagamese

By Susan Chau, Community Librarian

I will never forget the remarkable story slam of two Richards – Richard Wagamese and Richard Van Camp. Both gifted storytellers, riffing stories like jazz improvisations, which by the way, is one of the things Wagamese listened to as he wrote.

Meeting Richard Wagamese was such an honour, yet ironically he was the one to state how meeting librarians was an honour, such a humbling experience. Wagamese shared his days of living in the library as a youth facing homelessness. Libraries became his haven, he laughed boyishly as he confessed, “and I stashed good books behind the bible.” We dissected the list of books considered as “good.” Wagamese also shared how he would look up a word every day in the library to supplement his education before becoming an award winning Indigenous journalist and author.

While we forged a bond for the love of libraries, we found that storytelling is what ultimately connected us. Richard Wagamese was a storyteller we all want to listen to, especially after reading his works of art. Surprisingly, Wagamese was more interested in hearing stories - our histories, songs, and memories. He urged us to tell stories: "as a storyteller, you feel it in your bones". Wagamese listened deeply like you mastered the art of storytelling and you forgot that it was the other way around. I resisted, I didn’t know how until Wagamese shared a simple technique called story walk. You simply go for a walk, you tell yourself the story, repeat out loud, like a crazy person. You repeat the story until you got the rhythm, until you are compelled to write this down. If you don’t, your bones will start to ache.

Well, my bones are aching now. I didn’t realize I was missing storytelling in my life until the storyteller who inspired me passed away last Friday. In memory of Richard Wagamese, I’m going for a story walk, telling my story, and grabbing a Canada 150 Digital Storytelling Kit to preserve my story to share. I hope for fans of Richard Wagamese, and storytellers out there, you will do the same.

EPL’s Booklist: A short list to read as a reminiscence of Richard Wagamese’s life, and remembering the generous and kind spirited storyteller that we shall miss.

  • Indian Horse - a must read for exploring reconciliation and first book to discovering the author’s talent.
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce – one of the ‘good’ books stashed behind the bible by a young Richard Wagemese.
  • Medicine Walk – a subtle dedication to his own son and of memories that he could have…
  • One Native Life – a memoir that takes you on a journey of understanding intergenerational trauma and reclaiming identity.
  • Embers – a compulsive read for Wagamese’s poetic wisdom to counter the everyday stuff.