With so many talented Indigenous authors to choose from, it may be difficult to know where to begin. These three contemporary Indigenous authors are must-reads, for their award-winning and thought provoking work.
Richard Wagamese (1955 to 2017)
Richard Wagamese (from CBC)
Wagamese’s early life was filled with abandonment, abuse, numerous foster homes, and a search for identity. He was born into a traditional Ojibwa lifestyle, but was removed at the age of three, when he was found wandering alone with his siblings.
His childhood greatly influenced his writing, and “in his fiction and non-fiction, Wagamese wrote extensively about the profound difficulties he experienced growing up in foster homes.”[I] His memoir, One Native Life, is included in our list of Memoirs from Indigenous Canadians.
His first novel, The Keeper in Me, was published in 1994 and won the Writer’s Guild of Alberta award for best novel. He went on to write a total of fourteen books and win numerous awards, including an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, the city in which he lived until his death.
Wagamese’s novel, Indian Horse (2011), won the CBC Canada Reads People’s Choice Award. It has been adapted for film, and opened in April, 2018. The film has already won multiple awards in film festivals across the country.
Lee Maracle (from CBC)
Lee Maracle is a trailblazer, no question. She is a prolific poet, author, and “activist in the Indigenous struggle against racism, sexism and economic oppression.”[ii] Her first novel, Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel (1975), is not only an autobiography, but also one of the very first works published in Canada by an Indigenous author. “Rebel” is the perfect way to describe her.
When I am Woman was published in 1988, she asked to be included in the Vancouver Writers Festival to launch her book of essays, but was denied an invitation.
"So I went there and got up on stage and grabbed the mic and I did a reading," she said. "I said, 'Right now you are in my village, this is my original village and I am going to read here.'”[iii]
For Maracle, her art imitates her life: “Boundaries and the divisions between colonized and colonizer, and between white and Indigenous cultures, figure largely in much of Maracle’s writing,”[iv] and in how she has persevered and fought her way to be heard.
Thomas King (From the Canadian Encyclopedia)
Thomas King is a member of the Order of Canada, and is “often described as one of the finest contemporary Aboriginal writers in North America.”[v] He didn’t begin writing until his forties, and currently writes alongside his day-job, teaching Native Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph.
Still, he has managed to write numerous fiction and non-fiction works, including The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012), which won the 2014 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.
In an interview with The First Nations Drum, King notes that:
There’s a difference of narrative strategies between native and non-native writers, observes King. Non-natives who write about Indians usually write about the historical Indian; their books are set in the past.
“But when Natives write about native material, for the most part we write about the present. I’m not sure why that is, but it seems to be the case,” says King.[vi]
Look for his Dreadful Water mystery novels, published under the pseudonym Hartley GoodWeather. These books are perfect if you are looking for something a bit different and “injected with dry wit and biting social commentary”.[vii]
These acclaimed Contemporary Indigenous Authors have helped pave the way for upcoming Indigenous writers, and should definitely be on your must-read list.