'From Augie, we get the truth': Colleagues remember author Augie Merasty

Auguste "Augie" Merasty, author and residential school survivor, who detailed his life and experiences in The Education of Augie Merasty has died. He was 87.

The Education of Augie Merasty chronicled the late author's time in residential school

Merasty would often tell people he was writing a book but no one believed him, his co-author and publisher say. (Facebook)

No one ever believed Augie Merasty when he said he was writing a book. 

Merasty's own family hadn't fully understood him either — why he was the way he was — until they read the book no one believed was coming. 

More than a decade after he first reached out for help in 2001, The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir was released, written with the help of author David Carpenter.

Merasty died on Monday, shortly after his book was selected to the One Book, One Province program, which will see people and students and communities across the province read and discuss the memoir.

He was 87.

"When you go to a bar, there's always one guy who wants to tell you he's going to write a novel some day," Carpenter said. "Suddenly, [people realized] he'd been telling the truth all along and this book was very shocking."

The book covered Merasty's time in the St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing, Sask., between 1935 and 1944. It detailed the physical and sexual abuse Merasty experienced during his time there.

"He never really did talk to any of us — not me, at least — about what he went through," Arlene Merasty, Augie's daughter, told CBC in 2015.

"What he went through was so hard and happened to him for so many years, at such a young age, of course he was going to bring some of that punishment towards his children."

Sudden silence

Merasty sent notes and stories to writer David Carpenter over a six year period, detailing his experiences in the St. Therese Residential School. (Creeden Martell/CBC)

Merasty sent his notes and stories to Carpenter in batches, resulting in about 75 pages worth of material, and promised to send more, Carpenter said. This happened for a period of six years before the correspondence stopped.

"I thought he was dead," Carpenter said, adding he decided to put it together regardless and sent it off to publishers who rejected it. 

Carpenter then sent it to Bruce Walsh, director and publisher of the University of Regina Press, who made contact with Carpenter weeks later to get Merasty signed to a contract. 

Merasty had struggled with alcohol for years, living on and off the streets of Prince Albert, Sask. Chasing leads and rumours of Merasty's location, Carpenter finally found him in a detox centre after someone tipped him off. 

Due to Merasty's age, Walsh said the book was fast-tracked and the work completed in 10 months. Usually, it takes about two years to get something published, he added.

"People who had spurned him in the past were taking him in off the street and helping him," Carpenter said.

The impact 

The Education of Augie Merasty was selected for the Saskatchewan Library Association’s inaugural 2017 One Book, One Province book club. (Creeden Martell/CBC)

Walsh described the book as important, powerful and one that will leave a lasting impression.

"It was not just an important book for readers, but also for him," Walsh said. 

By having the book physically in his hands, it vindicated every claim Merasty had made about being a writer.

"I think about him often — about if he had a different upbringing, he would be one of our great writers," Walsh said. "In the end, he really did create a really important book that is now being taught in high schools across the country, in universities."

"From Augie, we get the truth," Carpenter said. "As far as reconciliation is concerned, the more we listen to or read the stories of First Nations people, Indigenous people, the closer we are to some beginning towards reconciliation."

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition