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National Aboriginal History Month: Richard Wagamese; from Library to Print


In March 2017, the Canadian literary scene lost a great voice. Richard Wagamese, journalist and author, was renowned for his rich and engaging stories so deeply entrenched in his Native heritage and so unapologetically expository of the realities faced by a community still recovering from the residential school system. As remarkable as his body of works is, his genesis as a writer is every bit as impressive and inspirational.

 In a 2016 interview on CBCRadio’s Candy Palmater Show, Wagamese recounted the day when he, a cold and homeless 16-year-old, followed a few people into a public library in St Catherines to seek warmth and shelter. Enchanted by a quiet the likes of which he’d never known before, he came back the next day and again after that. Surrounded as was by people reading, it was only a matter of time before he picked up a book too. So it began.

In his interview, he explains a process of discovery and self-driven education. Some days he would pull a fiction title from the shelves; on other days he would enlist the help of a librarian to find titles related to a particular topic of curiosity – anywhere from astrophysics to geology. It was there, in an environment and with an opportunity that only a library could offer, that the seeds of Wagamese’s storytelling career were sowed. It was the starting point of a process marked by devotion and hard work that lead to the development of his voice – inspired by the great works that had touched him so deeply in that comfortably quiet.  It was there that his growth into the powerful, evocative writer we came to know began.

Richard Wagamese’s story, which he told with ease and, perhaps, even pride, is a reminder to us all of the power of the written word in the conveying of knowledge and the growth of the mind. It also reminds us of the importance of public libraries as a means of making that knowledge accessible to anyone and everyone in the community.

Books by Richard Wagamese by IndigenousAutochtone