A buzz of energy from students filled the room during the lunch break at a workshop held by celebrated Ojibway author Richard Wagamese.
“It is so awesome,” said Haley Regan, a Grade 11 student from Princess Margaret Secondary School. “Hearing his stories has really made me interested in what it would be like to be an author.”
Wagamese was invited to lead the writing workshop held over three days this week with 13 students from Maggie and Pen-High. Regan said she first heard about the renowned author from her mom who works at the En’owkin Centre and immediately knew she wanted to be part of this workshop that is focused on inspiring kids to open their imagination and let their creative energy flow on paper, as well as gain confidence in reading their own work aloud.
“I came from a very creative family. My nana is an arts teacher and my mom is a published author. I got into the writing, music and arts thing, but public speaking has always been one of my passions because I get to speak about matters that are really important to me,” said Regan, who found the workshop helpful in improving her skills in this area.
Some of the students said they gained confidence in standing in front of people to speak, others said it was interesting learning how to put their words into creative sentences. For Julian Kruger, a Grade 9 student at Maggie it opened up a whole new passion.
“Writing isn’t something that I am usually interested in, but this is pretty interesting. In school they give you a subject and they expect you to follow all the rules. (Wagamese) is letting us use our imaginations and write about whatever we want,” said Kruger.
It is one of the things Wagamese, who regularly visits universities and colleges to conduct workshops, had set out to do.
“This is the whole reason why I do what I do. I come to schools because I believe if students can get even a short glimpse of the energy that is possible when you work at a heightened level that it will be attractive to them and they will want to do more with it. I can see that happening with them already,” he said.
Wagamese is one of Canada’s foremost First Nation authors and storytellers, working as a professional writer since 1979. He has been a newspaper columnist, reporter, radio and television broadcaster and producer, documentary producer.
Wagamese is the author of 11 titles from major Canadian publishers. His latest novel, Indian Horse, was featured on Canada Reads. He is also the recipient of many honours including the George Ryga award for Social Awareness in Literature in 2011.
“Words and language and writing changed my life. It gave me a career, it gave me a passion and it gave me a reason for being. I know how valuable that is to somebody’s life, especially to a young life,” said Wagamese. “I come to schools as often as I can to be able to give some of that away and see it catch on. We did an exercise this morning and I saw it catch on around the room and I really believe when young people feel the energy of language working in them it becomes one of the most attractive and most addictive kind of energy they will ever encounter and I want to be able to give that away as much as possible.”
Anne Tenning, the school district’s vice principal of aboriginal education, organized the workshops and included a storytelling performance called Our Voices Our Stories on Wednesday evening at Maggie. Wagamese’s reading was followed up by the students reading their own work. The workshops classes prepared the kids for the evening.
“We talked about the energy that comes when you harness language, when you harness word energy and find a way to use your imagination and your own personal history and things you know, regardless of what age you are or what grade level you are, to express yourself openly and without fear and with confidence,” said Wagamese.
“The stuff the students are reading is really, really good and I know they are getting it. This has been wonderful.”