By Jacob Cardinal
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“Inhabit what you read. Allow it to fill you. Let the intent of the spirit of the story take you where it will. Stories and books are tools of understanding on the journey of coming to know,” writes Richard Wagamese in What Comes From Spirit.
“Pick them up. Carry them. This is what I carried away. This is the message I brought to my storytelling to here, to this page, stark in its blankness, waiting like me to be imagined, to be filled.”
What Comes From Spirit by the late Richard Wagamese, published by Douglas & McIntyre, is a literary collection comprised of many introspective writings and teachings. It is a post-mortem release for the artist that provides a majestic send off for one of Canada’s most beloved Indigenous voices.
Wagamese, an acclaimed best-selling author, was an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. He passed away on March 10, 2017 in Kamloops, BC.
The author of the smash-hit and cultural phenomenon, Indian Horse, had won awards for his non-fiction and fiction work, including the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communication, the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, the Canada Reads People’s Choice Award, and the Writers Trust of Canada’s Matt Cohen Award.
This new curated collection brings together more of the prolific author’s meditations and short non-fiction writings, many appearing for the first time in print, and celebrates his ability to inspire, unite and empower.
His words on the pages of What Comes From Spirit come from unpublished manuscripts, social media accounts, his Word Press blog “World of Wonders” and his newspaper column with the Calgary Herald. For each copy of the book sold, the publisher will make a donation to the Ontario Arts Foundation in support of the Indigenous Voices Awards.
Always striving to be an authentic and stronger individual, Wagamese shared his personal journey through writing, constantly encouraging others to reach for more.
While some like to differentiate writers and artists, Wagamese has given a reminder as to why language and stories are just as beautiful as pink, cloudy skies. Despite being a compilation of past unpublished works, seemingly small in their creation, the collection paints a vivid portrait of a man who could not only write beautifully, but who perhaps knew something we didn’t.
Some people have an eye for visuals, some see negativity, but Wagamese had an eye for life. And the ability to put life in words.
Without getting too heavy, the stories contained within the book feel like stories that can only be written after the fact. Words that can only be written at the end of the trail.
During my initial introduction to the book, I was overcome with a huge sense of completion, despite having only read a few pages. The presentation of the collection provides the reader with feelings of appreciation and contentment. Success and succession. Mourning and thanks.
It teaches the importance of sitting and meditating on the passing moments; the poetic nature of a wood ducks life, the freedom of minnows, gratitude for the emptiness of a shovel. There is a healing, a familiar place, a hope to cling to, and a comfort to sleep within the pages of the book. Wagamese provides us an understanding.
The book is a poetic meditation on the gifts that life gives and takes away. Often times while reading the book, I would arrive in a peaceful, meditative state. Wagamese puts into words something that allows us not only to ponder the deep personal connection we hold with ourselves, but the natural world around us.
It took me long while to write this review, as I wasn’t sure how to write about someone as important as Wagamese, especially so publicly. And there is no way I can put into words how thankful I am to have the opportunity to “review” this book.
And perhaps I am not the one to write about such a beautiful book, because I would be lying if I said that I saw life the same way Richard did. Perhaps a visit to a ceremony would do me good, or maybe even just going to the beach and meditating on crab-catchers for a while.
But I know that in this time of turmoil and tragedy, the words left by Wagamese will reassure your belief in a sunny day.
“We all have stories within us. Sometimes we hold them gingerly, sometimes desperately, sometimes as gently as an infant. It is only by sharing our stories, by being strong enough to take a risk, both in the telling and in the asking, that we make it possible to know, recognize and understand each other.”
Richard Wagamese, What Comes From Spirit.
Jacob Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the ALBERTA NATIVE NEWS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.