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Richard Wagamese Passes

Posted: Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 8:14am

Harbour Publishing is very saddened to announce that the celebrated Canadian author Richard Wagamese has passed away.

Wagamese was the author of 15 books, ranging from poetry to fiction to memoir to inspirational literature. His most recent book, Embers (Douglas & McIntyre), is a collection of meditations on contemporary life from the perspective of Objibway teachings. It is currently on the shortlist for the BC Book Prizes. He is best known for his novel Indian Horse (Douglas & McIntyre), which was the 2013 People’s Choice winner in CBC’s Canada Reads and a Canadian bestseller.

Wagamese was born in 1955 in the Ojibway Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He was removed from his family by the Children's Aid Society as part of the Sixties Scoop and ended up in foster care in suburban Toronto. He struggled for many years before he went on a traditional Ojibway camping trip when he was 22 years old, where an elder told him he had the gift for storytelling.

He began his writing career in 1979, first as a journalist. then as a radio and television broadcaster. His debut novel, Keeper 'n Me, came out in 1994 and won the Alberta Writers Guild's Best Novel Award.

In 1991, he became the first Indigenous writer to win a National Newspaper Award for column writing. He has twice won the Native American Press Association Award for his journalism and received the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his 2011 memoir One Story, One Song. In 2012, he was honoured with the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communications, and in 2013 he received the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize.

Wagamese told the CBC in 2015 that he felt telling stories "is definitely who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing."

In 2015, he won the Matt Cohen Award, a recognition given out by the Writers' Trust of Canada that honours a writer who has dedicated their entire professional lives to the pursuit of writing.

Wagamese was always open about his struggles with alcoholism and PTSD and the impact the residential school system had on his family. "I know that if I don't look at my whole history and embrace the dark and hard parts, I don't know my own story," he told CBC in 2012. "And if I don't know my own story, I can't heal myself."

"Richard was a wonderful writer and a wonderful human being. His writing provided us with some of the most articulate descriptions of the struggles endured by his people, and the struggles he himself grappled with to the end,” said his publisher Howard White.

Harbour extends its condolences to Richard's family, friends and readers.