Wagamese, Richard 1955-
WAGAMESE, Richard 1955-
PERSONAL: Born October 14, 1955, in Minaki, Ontario, Canada; son of Stanley and Marjorie Alice (Raven) Wagamese. Education: Studied with traditional native elders following formal education through the ninth grade, proclaimed storyteller. Hobbies and other interests: Sports, music, reading.
ADDRESSES: Home—Toronto, Canada. Offıce—c/o Author Mail, Doubleday Canada, 105 Bond St., Toronto, Ontario M5B 1Y3, Canada.
CAREER: Writer. Worked at various jobs throughout Canada during the 1970s; freelance radio writer in the 1980s; Calgary Herald, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Native issues columnist, 1989-92; Windspeaker, columnist, 1987-91. Member of advisory committee of Grant McEwen College's Native Communications Program; member of board of governors, Old Sun Community College, and Siksika Indian Reserve, Gleichen, Alberta, Canada.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award for column writing, Native American Press Association, 1988; award for column writing, National Aboriginal Communications Society, 1988-89; nomination for National Newspaper Award for column writing, 1989; received National Newspaper Award for column writing, 1990; award for best first novel from Alberta Writer's Guild, 1995, for Keeper'n Me.
Keeper'n Me (novel), Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
A Quality of Light (novel), Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son (memoir), Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
Also contributor of freelance work to Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) Radio.
SIDELIGHTS: Richard Wagamese, an award-winning newspaper columnist, won further recognition with his first novel, Keeper'n Me, which concerns a young man rediscovering his heritage. Garnet Raven, capable of posing as a Hawaiian, Polynesian, an African American, or a Mexican—anything but his own race—eventually becomes determined to learn of his Native American ancestry. Having spent his youth in various foster homes and wasting his early adulthood in prison, the hero finds his way to the White Dog Reserve in northern Ontario. There, he befriends the aging Keeper, a recovering alcoholic. Ultimately, Garnet Raven and Keeper serve to inspire others on the reservation. Maureen McCallum Garvie in Books in Canada praised the novel's "teasing, self-deprecating humour," but found its climax to be "sentimental rather than . . . emotional." Kathleen Hickey in Quill & Quire, however, called Keeper'n Me "a stunning read, and an excellent example of what real storytelling can do."
In his second book, A Quality of Light, Wagamese creates Joshua, an Ojibway boy raised by white foster parents, and Johnny, a white boy who has always been interested in the elements of Native American culture that his own upbringing lacks. The boys become friends, but undeniable racial tensions boil around them, eventually resulting in Joshua's hospitalization and Johnny being sent to a detention center. During their separation, Joshua discovers his heritage and Johnny becomes militant against racial injustices. When the two meet again, their friendship cannot survive the differences in their development. Years later, however, they are given another chance to examine the most important aspect of one another: the spirit.
Wagamese discloses Joshua's namesake and his own quest for spiritual enlightenment in his memoir, For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son. This work reveals the autobiographical nature of Keeper'n Me by presenting the author's own story, which is very similar to Garnet Raven's. Wagamese wrote For Joshua after a four-day vision quest during which he fasted on a mountainside and reflected on the path his life has taken. The vision quest marked the beginning of For Joshua, in which the author offers the story of his life, beginning with his traumatic childhood, in which he spent years hopping between white foster homes and was consumed by a need to belong. He traces his time as a teenage runaway, when he lived on the streets with only an early high school education and his rapidly developing substance-abuse problem. The author recounts his most painful struggles, such as how alcoholism led to a series of incarcerations and a general destruction of everything pure around him and how racism directed toward him bred racism within him. Wagamese unearths these painful memories with the hope that his alienated son will learn from his father's mistakes. Wagamese eventually turned to his cultural heritage, realizing that it was the missing link in his life all along. He embraces ancient Ojibway stories and ancestral spiritual rituals, such as the vision quest, and explains their importance, encouraging his son to find these cultural assets before taking a wrong turn. Wagamese uses this book to redeem himself by unburdening his spirit and to teach his son to follow the right path.
"The writer who did not know himself—and who blamed 'the white man' for his troubles—has become the man who understands how things happened and who resolves to go forward," wrote Suzanna Methot in a review of For Joshua for Quill & Quire. Methot continued, "This well-written and perceptive book shows that it is possible for aboriginal people—for any person—to go from there to here." In a review of For Joshua on the Globe and Mail Web site, contributor Drew Hayden Taylor provided a positive assessment of the book, complaining only that "if there is a flaw, it is the writer's occasional foray into New Age pseudo-psychology," but ultimately commenting that "this is a small complaint when the book offers so much. It's hard to argue with a man revealing his soul to the world, and leaving behind a testament for his absent son."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books in Canada, May, 1994, p. 55.
Canadian Literature, autumn, 1998, review of TheQuality of Light, p. 171.
Quill & Quire, February, 1994, p. 25; May, 1994, p. 24; September, 2002, Suzanne Methot, review of For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son, p. 52.
Eye Weekly Web site,http://www.eye.net/ (January 2, 2004), Malene Arpe, review of Keeper'n Me.
First Nations Drum Web site,http://www.firstnationsdrum.com/ (January 2, 2004), Chiara Snow, review of For Joshua.
Globe and Mail Web site,http://www.globebooks.com/ (November 25, 2002), Drew Hayden Taylor, review of For Joshua.
International Readings at Harbourfront Web site,http://www.readings.org/ (January 2, 2004), description of A Quality of Light.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (January 2, 2004), description of For Joshua.*