The Next Chapter

Shelagh Rogers remembers Richard Wagamese

The acclaimed Indigenous author, who reflected on the legacy of residential schools in novels such as Indian Horse, has died at the age of 61.
"The novel was unfinished, but we do know what Richard's intent was. It was to end in an act of redemption," says Shelagh Rogers of Wagamese's last book, Starlight. Wagamese (left) and Rogers (right) were friends. (Shelagh Rogers/Twitter)

Richard Wagamese has died at the age of 61. His body of work includes six novels, a book of poetry and five nonfiction titles, including two memoirs and an anthology of his newspaper columns. His most recent book, Embers, is a collection of Ojibway meditations. It is currently shortlisted for a BC Book Prize. Richard was very close to The Next Chapter's host Shelagh Rogers. Below, Shelagh pays tribute to her dear friend and one of Canada's great storytellers:

The call came Friday afternoon, in the glorious winter sun, the call where I learned Richard Wagamese has died. He was only 61. With so many stories left to tell us.

His death is personal. You see, Richard was my CB. And I was his CS. Chosen Brother, Chosen Sister. So beyond the interviews we did, both on the radio and on stage, we knew each other well and had for decades. I regarded him as a teacher. I contacted him about everything from spiritual crises, to the news of the death of my dog Poppy. Here's what he wrote on that occasion:

"Poppy only ever knew love and only ever expressed it. She only ever knew joy and only ever expressed that. She was a friend, an ally, a warmth on cold nights and an unwavering gaze when things needed sorting out. She learned and gave enough and now continues on her marvelous journey of becoming more, just as all creatures, even us, do. She returns to joy. You will feel her in the rain, in the wind, in the bite of snow and in deep and penetrating silence when you stand out on the land — so that you might miss her terribly but never ever be away from her. That's what spirit is all about, my friend. It never leaves us. Ever."

I substitute Richard's name for Poppy. 

Richard struggled with demons. He was open about his unhappy childhood, being fostered out more than 15 times, as part of the legacy of residential schools. We can honour his spirit by educating ourselves about this time in our history. And the best way we can do that is to read his books. While we mourn the stories he had yet to tell, let us celebrate the ones he shared. He was a master. He was story. He was love.

Dear reader, dear listener, we grieve together.

Richard Wagamese won the Matt Cohen Prize in 2015, in celebration of a writing life. Here he is accepting the award: