Ojibway author and journalist Richard Wagamese has died at 61.
Wagamese, a member of the Wabaseemoong First Nation who was born in Northern Ontario and resided in Kamloops, B.C., was the son of residential school survivors and the prolific author of 13 titles, including seven novels, six non-fiction titles, and one poetry collection. He gained wider attention when his novel Indian Horse (Douglas & McIntyre) became a finalist for CBC’s Canada Reads competition in 2013. Although the fictional tale of a residential school survivor ultimately lost to Lisa Moore’s novel February, Indian Horse won the people’s choice award and went on to become a Canadian bestseller.
Wagamese’s writing focused on the indigenous experience and, in particular, his own personal struggles, but he told Quill & Quire in 2014, “I’m not a native writer. I’m a fucking writer. … I don’t want to be compared, I don’t want to be ghettoized, I don’t want to be marginalized. … I just want [people] to read my work and go, ‘Wow.’”
In 2015, while accepting the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Matt Cohen Award, Wagamese spoke about his writing life, the “immaculate sense of solitude,” and the ever-present hope that “the stories that live inside the curl of your knuckles can be coaxed outward one more time.” He said that while his formal education ended in Grade 9, he found his voice by becoming a prolific reader. “The only thing I’ve taken is the open opportunity that lay between the open covers of a book,” he said. “And I read and I read, and by sheer volume alone, I found out what a good sentence was and how a strong paragraph is constructed and how a great narrative arc is carried through the course of a long and lengthy story.”
Wagamese’s most recent book, 2016’s Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (D&M) – a collection of ideas inspired by his meditative practice – was nominated on March 7 for the B.C. Book Prizes’ Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award. Another book, One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet, is slated for spring 2018 publication with D&M.