Richard Wagamese, Whose Writing Explored His Ojibwe Heritage, Dies at 61

He died at 61 on March 10 at his home in Kamloops, British Columbia. Yvette Lehman, his fiancée, said that he had recently had pneumonia but that she was not sure of the cause of death.

Though not widely known outside Canada, Mr. Wagamese was admired by his peers. Louise Erdrich, who is part Ojibwe (and whose novel “LaRose” won the National Book Critics Circle Award this month), described him as “a very funny writer with an eye for the absurd ironic detail.”

“Richard Wagamese divined the secrets of human scars and knew that broken people are the strangest and most extraordinary people of all,” Ms. Erdrich wrote in an email.

His fiction drew on his life, and his return to Ojibwe culture became grist for his first novel, “Keeper ’n Me” (1994). As a freelance columnist and reporter for newspapers including The Ottawa Citizen, he wrote about the Native Canadian community as well as his alcoholism and his times in jail. In 1990 he won a National Newspaper Award, a major award in Canada, for column writing, honoring his work at The Calgary Herald.

His other novels include “Ragged Company” (2008), about four homeless people who win millions of dollars in the lottery, and “Medicine Walk” (2014), about a teenager named Franklin Starlight who accompanies his chronically ill estranged father on a journey into the woods.

“Out here where he spent the bulk of his free time there was no need for elevated ideas or theories or talk,” Mr. Wagamese wrote of Franklin, “and if he was taciturn he was content in it, hearing symphonies in wind across a ridge and arias in the screech of hawks and eagles, the huff of grizzlies and the pierce of a wolf call against the unblinking eye of the moon. He was Indian.”


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