Richard Van Camp talks about the healing power of stories

As part of the Canadian Writers at York series, Richard Van Camp visited York University on Oct. 4 to talk about his newest collection of short stories, Night Moves (2016).

Richard Van Camp
Richard Van Camp

Van Camp is a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT, and a renowned storyteller and best-selling author. He thinks of stories, whether for adults, young adults, or children, as medicine. The beauty of fiction, he said, is that it can fix what has been broken, by providing alternative realities. “When something breaks my heart, I think: how can I honour this, how can I write about this?”

In the hilarious and heartbreaking Night Moves, he returns to characters whose lives have touched us before in The Lesser Blessed, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go, and Godless but Loyal to Heaven. In this collection of stories, a teenager confesses to a vicious assault on a cross-dressing classmate, and the gangsters Torchy and Sfen deal with the evil that has taken residence within their community. As the publishers of the book point out, these stories are “a window into the magic and medicine of the Northwest Territories.”

Richard Van Camp Night MovesVan Camp has interviewed various elders throughout his life and has recorded their stories in order to preserve and be able to share stories that bring people hope. His own stories fall into this category, too.

As a modern Indigenous man, he shows in his writing and through his living example how important family and community are. He says that, as a way of dealing with the legacy of colonialism, “some of us reclaim ourselves as fathers, as friends, as nephews, as uncles.”

Besides writing fiction, Van Camp has been working tirelessly on various other projects, sometimes with other Indigenous artists. He has published several children’s books, and comic books, and is now working on a movie shot in the Northwest Territories. His first baby book, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, was the official selection of the Books for BC Babies program and was given to every newborn baby in British Columbia in 2008. His first comic book on deterring youth away from gangs, Path of the Warrior, is published with Cree artist, Steve Sanderson, through the Healthy Aboriginal Network. His second comic book on sexual health is Kiss Me Deadly, created with Haida artist Chris Auchter; it can be read in its entirety at

Talking about the writing process, the author said that, for him, it is always different, but dialogue is very important. What characters say or don’t say reveals something about their life story. The stories he writes are about things that matter to him and his community. “If it hurts my nation or my family, I write about it,” Van Camp says.

On Oct. 18, Olive Senior spoke about her collection of short stories The Pain Tree. The next reading will be given on Nov. 1 by Laurie D. Graham reading from her collection of poems titled Settler Education.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at or Professor Gail Vanstone at All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.