Author Richard Van Camp reflects on his 2018 CODE Burt Honour book award

Author Richard Van Camp has been named Storyteller in Residence by the Calgary Public Library. He's offering virtual storytelling workshops during the month of June. (Photo by William Au).

by John Copley

(ANNews) – The front page at shines with the smiling face of Cherie Dimaline, author of the book, Marrow Thieves and the winner of the 2018 CODE Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Young Adult Literature. 

2018 Honour Book awards recipients included Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones (Annick Press) and The Journey Forward: Two Novellas on Reconciliation by Richard Van Camp and Monique Gray Smith (McKellar and Martin).

Thousands of copies of these three winning titles will now be distributed to youth via this unique literary award’s book purchase and distribution program. The CODE Burt Award is a literary award and readership initiative that recognizes excellence in locally authored literature for young adults, ages 12-18. The objective of the prize is to champion literacy, build language skills, and foster the love and habit of reading by ensuring that young people have access to high-quality, culturally relevant, and engaging reading materials. The initiative was launched in 2008 when CODE, with the help of Canadian philanthropist William Burt and the Literary Prizes Foundation, established the Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature. The program has since expanded into various countries, including Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and the Caribbean.

“I will never forget this day, meeting the students and teachers and receiving the 2018 CODE Burt Honour Book Award,” stated Van Camp in comments following the awards ceremony. “It was one of my highest achievements because I can still hear the morning prayer. I can still hear and feel the songs and drums. I can still see the smiles and feel the pride in the room for everyone who was here. I am proud to stand with Cherie Demaline and Adam Garnett Jones. I am a huge fan of their work and I can’t wait to see what happens next year for the new voices that will be honoured in such a sweet way.’

Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation at Fort Smith, NWT. He is a graduate of the En’owkin International School of Writing, the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing BFA Program, and the Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. He began his career on the writing staff of the CBC TV series, North of 60. He’s published several books – short story collections that are set primarily in the fictionalized community of Fort Simmer. In addition, Van Camp has published poems, educational graphic novels and several children’s books.

Described as being “an internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author,” Van Camp was gracious enough to pause for a brief interview with Alberta Native News.

The question answer session went like this:

When did you start writing? Did the interest come early in life or as an adult?

“Great question! I was always a reader, a listener and very much in love with pop culture. I’m a child of the 80’s so GI Joe, Star Wars, Terminator, Predator, Jason and Freddy were part of my childhood. They were my uncles (Wah!).” 

Congratulations for being chosen for a Burt Honour Award for The Journey Forward. Why did you chose this topic and what messages did you deliver in the book.

“Monique Gray Smith and I have two books together bound by a single theme: Truth and Reconciliation. Our publisher is McKellar and Martin and this is the first flip book in the series “The Journey Forward.” My side of the book is “When We Play Our Drums, They Sing!”  It’s a story about a 12-year-old boy named Dene Cho. He has a lot of questions and anger about Residential Schools and the curriculum he’s having to suffer through daily. He wants more for himself. Like me, he’s starving to learn his culture and language and, after a surprising turn of events with his principal, he’s given three days to go find what he wants to learn and return and speak to the teachers and principal of his school and give the presentation of a lifetime. He decides to go see the blind medicine man Snowbird. Oh, it’s a great book. Monique’s book is “Lucy and Lola” and we both dug so deep to explore the issues surrounding Residential Schools that are affecting both of our families, our communities, etc.”

How many times have you been nominated for writing awards? How many have you won and with which titles?

“It’s always such an honour to be nominated for an award. Winning is fun, but it’s not the most important thing to me because when I receive a message via Facebook or through my site, with someone writing to thank me, that’s the magic that makes me soar. To know that families are reading my baby books to their little ones, that’s the sweetness for me. To know that folks are still moved by The Lesser Blessed or any of my four short story collections or to see youth reading my comics and laughing or really being swept away, that’s all the soul medicine I need to keep going.  As well, to work with my heroes like Julie Flett, George Littlechild, Scott Henderson, Anita Doron, Carla Ulrich, Brent Kaulback, Steve Sanderson, Zoe Hopkins, Kelvin Redvers, Chris Auchter– to work with such great editors, directors, producers and publishers, my life is fantastic.”

Describe your experience as part of the Burt Award 2018 presentation.

“I’m both a huge fan of Cherie Demaline and Adam Garnet Jones. Both The Marrow Thieves and Fire Song are tremendous works. I was happy to go to hang out with them and the students, teachers, school, community of Kitigan Zibi where the Burt Awards were hosted; I wish you could have all been there. The students opened the day in prayer in their language. They drummed and sang for us in their language. It was such an amazing day. I’ll have it forever in my heart. I’m proud to be included as a Burt “Honour Award” Recipient.”

What are you most proud of? most grateful for?

“I’m just so proud to have known great Elders like Irene Sanderson, Maria Brown, Rosa Mercredi, Helena Mandeville, Seraphine and John Evans. I’m grateful that I was the Handi Bus driver in Fort Smith when I didn’t know what I was going to do with this life of mine. They saw something in me and they trusted me with their stories. I’m so grateful for all the visits. I am so grateful that I had the privilege of getting to listen to and learn from Dorothy “Dot” Desjarlais, David King, Archie Smith, Earl and Marlene Evans, Kenny Hudson, my grandparents, Pierre and Melanie Wah-Shee, my mom, Rosa Wah-Shee.  Their teachings guide me to this day.”

Richard Van Camp has left our readers with something to look forward to. His two new books should be out in mid-spring 2019.  The first, May We Have Enough to Share is a baby book, with photography by Tenille Campell. The second, Moccasin Square Gardens is Van Camp’s fifth short story collection with Douglas & McIntyre.

“Both are magic,” said Van Camp. “I promise you!”










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