The untimely death of Ojibwa author Richard Wagamese brought particular sadness to those of us close to the Denman Island Readers & Writers Festival. Richard was a featured author at our 2014 festival, mesmerizing large audiences with his skillful fiction as well as his candid honesty about his own sometimes painful personal journey. Those in attendance will remember his speaking of stories as gifts given to the writer to pass on to others.
He was as well a superb mentor; we talked with him at the time about the desirability of his returning to conduct the Writing Week for us and were looking forward to that arrangement in the future.
While so clearly articulating through fiction the many injustices and difficulties faced by First Nations peoples as a result of colonization, Richard also had a sparkling sense of mischievous humour. The last time I encountered him, at another literary festival, he was sporting an extravagantly split lip, the result, he said, of some frantic action along the boards during a recent hockey game. He loved his hockey, of course, and proudly told the audience that he considered himself “the best 60-year-old Indian hockey player in Canada.” Who could dispute it? As I bid him farewell at the festival’s end, I suggested he might consider retaining the split lip for its theatrical effect. His face lit up with a mile-wide grim. “Yeah,” he said, laughing, “it could help with my authenticity!”
His authenticity needed no props. He was the real thing. So is his writing. He’ll be greatly missed by all who loved the truth and humour of this gifted story teller.
March 13, 2017