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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: Story Keepers: Conversations with Aboriginal Writers

Review By: Christine McFarlane

Why do they write? "Storykeepers: Conversations with Aboriginal Writers" Written By Jennifer David Ningwakwe Learning Press $ 14.95 (sc)

Indigenous cultures have a strong oral storytelling tradition that has been preserved and passed down for hundreds of years. There are Aboriginal writers all over who are transforming that oral tradition into a written one, The power of the written word is one topic that I love to explore not only as a writer, myself, but also as a voracious reader and innately knowing inside that 'we all have stories itching to be heard and told." 

Aboriginal literature in Canada before the 1970's was virtually non-existent, but today there is a vibrant community of writers who are winning awards, challenging readers and sharing unique experiences. Jennifer David explores the works and words of ten contemporary Aboriginal writers from across Canada in this book "Story Keepers: conversations with Aboriginal Writers."

Authors explored include Jeannette Armstrong, Louise Halfe, Maria Campbell, Drew Hayden Taylor, Basil Johnston, Ruby Slipperjack-Farrell, Gregory Scofield, Armand Ruffo, Richard Van Camp and Lee Maracle, who I have had the privilege of studying under during my studies at the University of Toronto.

Author Jennifer David writes that "Story Keepers: conversations with aboriginal writers" started out as a television program, and how "once upon a time, as a journalist, I began to seek out and talk to some Aboriginal writers I admired, preparing material for a television series profiling Indigenous storytellers. Everyone loved the idea-who wouldn't want to spend time with some of the funniest, most articulate authors in Canada? The problem, as always in Canadian broadcasting, was funding. There wasn't enough of it." 

"Story Keepers: conversations with Aboriginal writers" was born when David was presented with an opportunity from Ningwakwe Learning Press when they appeared and welcomed the opportunity to publish a book profiling Aboriginal writers, and the National Literacy Secretariat of HRSDC agreed to fund it.

Many of the authors profiled in this book were set on their path as writers by chance. It shows the varied ways words worked their way into these authors lives and helped them pave the way for other authors/writers behind them. The authors encompass" different ages, men and women, from every corner of Canada. Some grew up in the bush, some in the city, Many struggled with the English language, or fought to keep their own language." 

Aboriginal literature deals with many issues, and it is literature that has always built bridges between individuals and peoples. These authors write songs, novels, radio documentaries, history, poems, children's stories, plays, essays, speeches, and jokes. According to author Richard  Van Camp "the themes that we're all dealing with are very similar: identity, inheritance, family, residential schools. Finally, we're coming into the light again."

Another contributor, Ruby Slipperjack relays how attending day school held many good memories but to a young woman raised in a tight-knit, large and social family, the solitude was difficult." This solitude, however, was the catalyst that led Ruby to begin her writing. She noted 
"I found myself in isolation with no one to tell my stories to-so I started to write them down."

Isolation can serve a writer well, if they let it. So many ideas and stories can come together, and that is what I love about the power of words and story. We are all storytellers in one way or another. We choose the medium in which to let our voices and stories be heard. 

Aboriginal literature deserves a national and international audience and "Story Keepers: conversations with Aboriginal writers" cements that idea even more once you pick it up and read it. 

For other great Aboriginal literature, you can visit Ningwakwe Learning Press at and you can order this book from Good Minds, an Aboriginal owned distributor at


Enid Bennett said...

well, that was quick! ;)
all the good stuff.

Enid said...

Christine: Was this review published in a journal or paper?

Christine said...

No it wasn't published elsewhere. This is an older book so I put it up here on my blog instead.