Richard Van Camp on storytelling and its power to combat loneliness
The Tlicho Dene author's book, 'Gather,' is 25 years in the making
When Richard Van Camp graduated high school in Fort Smith, N.W.T., it seemed all his peers knew exactly what their next move was — except for him.
But when he saw a notice that the local shuttle bus needed a volunteer driver, he knew that would lead him somewhere.
That somewhere was driving the elders, or the "royalty of the community," wherever they wanted to go — to the doctor, to the bingo halls, to watch the pelicans return.
They could see right away that I was a really hollow Indigenous person culturally and that I was searching.- Richard Van Camp
In spending time with them, Van Camp felt they knew he was seeking guidance, whether he knew it himself or not.
"They could see right away that I was a really hollow Indigenous person culturally and that I was searching."
What he found was much more than direction: it was the start of a long writing career, and a building block for his latest book, Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling.
A few months into driving the bus, he realized no one was recording the elders in the community. He bought a recorder and started asking elders to share their stories, if they were comfortable. He's held onto 24 stories — some more than 25 years old — and, with permission, he finally released a few in his latest book.
Van Camp shared the audio of one of the stories — recorded in 1995 — from Anna Tonasket on Soundcloud. She talks about the Little People, tiny tricksters that are legends in some Indigenous communities, and how they saved her life.
In Gather , Van Camp also explores how storytelling can help folks who may be struggling with isolation and loneliness.
In a pre-pandemic world, storytellers can bring people closer together, both literally and metaphorically speaking.
We can't get together like we used to quite yet, but for Van Camp, a good storyteller can create those connections through audio, video or from six feet away.
"I think that a good storyteller brings hope, hilarity, comfort, inspiration and peace," Van Camp said.
That's what he hopes to deliver with Gather. In between the stories from celebrated writers, elders and storytellers, are stories from Van Camp himself, advice on storytelling and why it may be as important as ever.
"This book is really about how it's our culture, it's our friends, it's our relationships, it's our hobbies, it's our passions that actually can help uplift our spirits and help carry us through this pandemic and through loneliness," Van Camp said.