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Guest Post! Waub Rice Talks About How Libraries and Books Impact His Life

29/07/2015

Please welcome, Waubgeshig Rice, originally from Wasauksing First Nation, and author of Legacy and Midnight Sweatlodge.

“A library is an important pillar of any community. It is a deep well of knowledge and a rich haven of stories. It is also an important gathering place, and above all, a safe space for people of all walks of life. For me, libraries have been reliable venues in which I could expand my mind and feel at home for nearly all of my life.

 

I grew up in the First Nation of Wasauksing, a small Anishinaabe community of a few hundred people on Georgian Bay in Ontario. That’s where my schooling began. We didn’t have much of a library back then. There was only a small room in the band office with a handful of books that we school children could sign out. Still, it was exciting to be able to browse those few shelves for classics like Where the Wild Things Are and The Paper Bag Princess.

 

Every couple of weeks, we’d take a class trip into the nearby town Parry Sound to visit the library there. The big, brick building downtown was and still is an important hub. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped inside. It was like entering a vast, wonderful world of books. The big room on the right was for kids, and the much bigger hall on the left housed seemingly endless rows of shelves for older students and adults. Each of us opened accounts at the Parry Sound Public Library. We’d sign books out, and exchange them for different ones on the next trip. 

 

In those days as an elementary student, I usually signed out sports and science books from the library in town, and took them back to my home on the reserve. I liked to read about hockey history and the vastness of the solar system, for example. As I got older, though, I became much more interested in fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy. By the age of 12, I was reading books by Isaac Asimov and Robert Jordan. Their stories transported me to realms far beyond my imagination. For me, reading became a fun escape when I had time to pass growing up in my community.

 

When high school began, that literary world blew wide open. Along with reading the classics in my English classes like The Chrysalids and Lord of the Flies, I had many more novels at my disposal in the school library. When I could, I’d browse the aisles, looking for anything else that piqued my interest. I was like a kid in a candy store. As a result, I always had another book on the go, no matter what I was reading for my homework. 

 

But during these very important formative years, something was missing. Books were my outlet to learn about other people and their experiences and ways of life. They temporarily took me away from my life as an Anishinaabe youth. In the pages I lost myself in, I never read about experiences like mine. Little did I know at the time, there were many Indigenous authors writing powerful works about Indigenous life. 

 

Fortunately, my aunt Elaine was very familiar with authors like Thomas King, Basil Johnston, and Louise Erdrich. I think she saw that I loved reading, and knew that I needed to be exposed to novels written by people like me. So as a teen, she gave me a new book for every birthday and Christmas. Before long, I had my own rich personal library that included works by Joseph Boyden, Lee Maracle, Sherman Alexie, Jordan Wheeler, and many other Indigenous writers. In just a few short years, my world completely changed.

 

Reading these pioneering Indigenous authors inspired me to write creatively. It became my dream to become a writer. I began to write in my free time as a creative outlet. Some of those short stories I wrote as a teen became my first book, Midnight Sweatlodge. Last year, my first novel, Legacy, was published. Both books can be found on library shelves across the country, alongside some of the names that inspired me to pursue this dream in the first place. Seeing books I wrote in libraries really is a dream come true.

 

Today, Wasauksing has its own library, as do many other First Nations in Canada. These libraries are important pillars that bring communities together under the unifying banner of storytelling and sharing. They inspire us to teach and learn, and to strengthen and support culture. I’m proud to be able to contribute to them, and I will continue to rely on them for the rest of my life.” Waub.

 

*****

 

Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. He developed a strong passion for storytelling as a child while learning about being Anishinaabe. The stories his elders shared and his unique experiences growing up in his community inspired him to write creatively. Some of the stories he wrote as a teenager eventually became Midnight Sweatlodge, his first collection of fiction published by Theytus Books in 2011. His debut novel, Legacy, was also published by Theytus in the summer of 2014. His journalism career began when he was a 17-year-old exchange student in northern Germany, writing about being Anishinaabe in a European country for newspapers back in Canada. He graduated from Ryerson University’s journalism program in 2002, and has worked in a variety of media across Canada since. He started working for CBC in Winnipeg in 2006. Along with reporting the news, he has produced television and radio documentaries and features for the public broadcaster. He currently works as a video journalist for CBC News Ottawa. In 2014, he received the Anishinabek Nation’s Debwewin Citation for Excellence in First Nation Storytelling.