In Conversation with Richard Van Camp

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Writer in Residence, Richard Van Camp, Athabasca University, #AthaU, AU, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, George Littlechild, The Lesser Blessed, richardvancamp.com, Three Feathers, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve

On behalf of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Dr. Angie Abdou, chair of the Writer in Residence Committee, we’re pleased to welcome Richard Van Camp, to Athabasca University as the newly appointed Writer-in-Residence for 2017-18. Richard is an author and storyteller whose work has garnered international acclaim. The date and time of his inaugural lecture will be announced soon — stay tuned!

We had the chance to peek into the mind of Richard to find out what exactly a Writer in Residence does, what the Edmontonian, by way of Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, is working on these days, and how he plans on using the hunger of AU students to further his own skills.

What kind of work do you do with aspiring writers? Do you take on a mentorship model?

I’ll provide feedback one-on-one. Often, I find writers just need someone to validate what they’re exploring. My job, I feel, is to help guide.

Influencing the influencer

Did you have a writer or writers who influenced you in the way a Writer in Residence might? What did they teach you?

I completed two year at the En’owkin International School of Writing; I received my BFA in Creative Writing in Victoria at UVIC: I also completed my Master’s degree in Creative Writing at UBC. With the two agents and ten publishers I work with on a monthly basis and 25 years as a writer–20 years as a published writer with 20 books out, I’m happy to say I’ve had the best teachers, the toughest editors and tons of folks who believe in me. It’s my time to give back. If I can be that bridge to you securing an agent and a publisher, great! If I can help you enter your first contest with a polished manuscript–I’m delighted. I’m just so grateful to be here as a helper.

How Richard can help

What are the most valuable parts of the Writer in Residence program for the student? How do you foresee it being valuable for you?

Athabasca University has given me an office so I’ll be meeting with writers in-person twice a week. The program has been around for a long time and AU has also had many high-profile mentors as helpers. I’m looking forward to helping writers who are as hungry to tell their stories as I am, and be there as a sounding board, editor, and coach.

Being a Writer in Residence is just as valuable for me because I see how hungry everyone is. It inspires me. I get to talk craft and suggest all these great books, but, in turn, I’m told about a lot of books, movies and TV series that I had no idea existed. Also, nothing beats visiting and reading and listening. I love it!

Athabasca University's new Writer in Residence is currently working on his next novel, The Grass Dancer. Writer in Residence, Richard Van Camp, Athabasca University, #AthaU, AU, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, George Littlechild, The Lesser Blessed, richardvancamp.com, Three Feathers, Jay Cardinal Villeneuve

What do you plan on working on as AU’s Writer in Residence?

I’m working on a novel titled The Grass Dancer. Publishers are expecting 80,000 words these days and I aim to give 80,000 words of the most hilarious writing of my career. It’s coming. Slowly. There’s always a chance that a new short story, baby book, comic book or graphic novel will emerge but the novel is why I wake up in a handstand every day at 4 a.m. 🙂

Wormholes into new galaxies

Where do you get your inspiration? Is finding that inspiration the biggest difficulty when writing? If not, what is?

I feel that with a lot of the hard stuff I’ve written with The Lesser Blessed and my short stories, it’s time to be silly and have a literary 80’s dance off and share how wise, romantic, silly and loving we are as Northerners so I want to braid that into every page with The Grass Dancer. I also want to keep writing incredible short stories. I’m a slave to the genre. I love it when it happens. Short stories are these wormholes into new galaxies. I love it when I’m pulled into one and I get to write about it as a witness, if that makes sense.

Does writing energize you? Does teaching about writing give you the energy you need?

Yup! There’s no buzz like knowing you’ve dug deep between 4 to 7 a.m. every single day, and you’re exploring these sweet mysteries that have chosen you. And the best part? They’re always waiting for you the next morning. They’ve chosen you. They’re trusting you.

What an amazing life to live and be!

Writers are Oracles. Writers are healers and menders and haunters.

I look forward to helping out as much as I can.

Mahsi cho!

Richard Van Camp
Tlicho Dene
From Fort Smith, NWT: Treaty 8 Territory
Living in Edmonton
Treaty 6 Territory

Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Tłı̨chǫ Dene from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. He is the author of two children’s books with the Cree artist George Littlechild: A Man Called Raven and What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? His novel, The Lesser Blessed, is now a feature film with First Generation Films; his collections of short fiction include Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go and Other Stories, Godless but Loyal to Heaven and Night Moves.

He is the author of four baby books: Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns; Nighty Night: A Bedtime Song for Babies and Little You (now translated into Cree, Dene and South Slavey!) and We Sang You Home, and he has two comic books out with the Healthy Aboriginal Network: Kiss Me Deadly and Path of the Warrior. His graphic novel, Three Feathers, is about restorative justice; his new novel, Whistle, is about mental health and asking for forgiveness and his graphic novel, The Blue Raven, is about mental health and the power of culture and friends.

His Eisner nominated graphic novel, A Blanket of Butterflies, is about peacemaking where a grandmother is the hero of the story and his latest graphic novel, Spirit, is about suicide prevention. Cinematic adaptations of his work include Mohawk Midnight Runners, by Zoe Hopkins based on Richard’s short story, Dogrib Midnight Runners from The Moon of Letting Go, Kelvin Redver’s adaptation of firebear called them faith healers, and Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s adaptation of Hickey Gone Wrong, based on Richard’s comic book with Chris Auchter and Three Feathers, which is available for viewing in Bush Cree, Dene and South Slavey as well as English, based on his graphic novel.

You can visit Richard on Facebook, Twitter and at richardvancamp.com