The Next Chapter

Wesley French shares what it was like narrating the audiobook of Richard Wagamese's final novel

The actor shares the impact the late Indigenous author has had on his life.
Wesley French is a Canadian actor and voiced the audiobook of Richard Wagamese's novel Starlight. (CBC)

Starlight is the final novel from Richard Wagamese. The Ojibwe author, who died in March 2017, is acclaimed for novels such as Indian Horse and Medicine Walk.

Published in August of 2018, Starlight centres on an abused woman on the run who finds refuge on a farm owned by an Indigenous man with wounds of his own. The novel includes a deeply personal essay called Finding Father, which was shortlisted for the 2015 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Wagamese has one more book: the essay collection One Drum will be published in fall 2019.

The audiobook is narrated by actor Wesley French, who is from Chippewas of Thames First Nation in southern Ontario. French spoke to Shelagh Rogers about what the experience was like.

This interview originally aired on Oct. 29, 2018.

Daunting experience

"Reading Starlight was a little scary at first because Richard Wagamese is someone who we all revere and respect. There was pressure to give this last work some justice.

"There had to be omnipresent narration throughout the novel. The essay had to be narrated in a slightly different tone, as a matter-of-fact explanation of Richard's experiences as a young person, to get that sense of where he was coming from. Because if you'd just read his novels, maybe you wouldn't see fully what he had experienced."

Lasting legacy 

"I have never gone through what generations before me have. What the Finding Father essay does is speak volumes about what happened to a lot of people. My grandparents were both in residential schools and we didn't hear a lot about how that went for them. Residential schools weren't talked about in the book, but it's definitely part of the narrative. I couldn't help but be personally affected by that essay and it was a nice way of tying up the story."

Wesley French's comments have been edited for length and clarity.