By Medicine Hat News on March 17, 2017.
We’ve lost Richard Wagamese, celebrated journalist and award-winning author, much too early, at only 61. You are likely familiar with his Canada Reads finalist “Indian Horse” or “Medicine Walk,” a Banff Mountain Book Festival grand award winner. The library community mourns the loss of a champion who frequently said “libraries and librarians are my favourite places and people on the planet.”
On June 1, 2016, and available online, the Candy Palmater Show on CBC Radio featured an interview with Wagamese who described the important role of public libraries in his search for knowledge and self-improvement. He was a scared, lonely 16-year-old who followed people into a building looking for warmth. The first thing he noticed was the peace; no yelling or banging or abuse.
Enjoying the quiet but wanting to fit in, he picked up a book. Day after day he read books and, working or on the bus, started to write down snippets of overheard conversations. He’d bring questions from these conversations and ask the library staff to help him find books on related topics. Anxious about having left school at grade nine, he wanted to try to understand things that sounded important.
He also discovered the way that fiction can transport you into imaginary landscapes and started to wonder if he could write in a way that would captivate others. The library books he read taught him how to write and the day he wrote a clear, concise sentence that said exactly what he meant, he realized writing was something he could do.
Wagamese became an award winning columnist for the Calgary Herald, a scriptwriter, and an acclaimed teacher. Wagamese has also left us a legacy of recorded conversations, many of which are available online. Please ask library staff members for help finding these resources.
His books are available in a variety of formats across the Shortgrass Library system. In order of writing, they include: “Keeper’n Me,” “A Quality of Light,” “For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son,” “Dream Wheels,” “One Native Life,” a Globe and Mail 2008 Top 100 Books of the Year selection, “Ragged Company,” “One Story, One Song,” “The Next Sure Thing” and “Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations.”
Wagamese had to deal with the legacy of residential schools, with foster care, and more, but in his middle years he found himself ready to let go of anger. In his essay “Returning to Harmony” he writes: “Every spiritually enhancing experience asks a sacrifice of us and, in this, the price of admission is a keen desire to be rid of the block of anger.”
“It is a big word, reconciliation. Quite simply, it means to create harmony. You create harmony with truth and you build truth out of humility … Within us, as nations of Aboriginal people and as individual members of those nations, we have an incredible capacity for survival, endurance, and forgiveness. In the reconciliation with ourselves first, we find the ability to create harmony with others, and that is where it has to start?in the fertile soil of our own hearts, minds, and spirits.”
Let’s honour Richard Wagamese by reading his works, listening to his story, and being open to playing our part in seeking harmony through reconciliation.
Shelley Ross is chief librarian at the Medicine Hat Public Library.
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