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New VPL Indigenous Storyteller

January 25th, 2024

BC writer and author, Joseph Kakwinokanasum has been elected the Indigenous Storyteller in Residence at the Vancouver Public Library, for 2024.

Kakwinokanasum is a member of the James Smith Cree Nation and grew up in the Peace region of northern BC. His debut novel, My Indian Summer (Tidewater Press, 2022), is loosely based on his own childhood. It is a story based in 1979, with the narrative following twelve-year-old Hunter Frank living miles out of Dawson Creek, struggling to stay clear of his violent, alcoholic mother, Margarette and older brother Noah. After his sister, Deb, runs away to Vancouver, Hunter finds himself returning bottles and hunting small game to sell to three elders for cash, to fund his escape from his mother. Then, he finds an abandoned bag stuffed with cash and illegal marijuana. Will Hunter escape the dangerous drug dealer who is looking for him with a loaded gun? And will he forgive his mother who is a residential school survivor?

My Indian Summer gained recognition among the literary community in BC, as Kakwinokanasum was awarded the 2023-2024 First Nations Communities READ Award, and was shortlisted for the 2023 ReLit Award for fiction. He was also named one of The Writers Trust of Canada’s Rising Stars of 2022 and a finalist for CBC’s Nonfiction Prize in 2020.

“As storytellers, we honour our ancestors with the legends and tales passed down to us,” says Kakwinokanasum. “No matter what culture you come from, storytelling has always been a social tool that builds community and understanding. I believe that strength and honour are elemental when it comes to storytelling, and that storytelling is a way to gain personal power. I’m looking forward to working with the community to help others discover this power and share their stories.”

As the Indigenous Storyteller in Residence, Kakwinokanasum will dedicate part of his time to a new writing project—a dark, gritty, horror fantasy rooted in Indigenous ghost stories from his childhood. Additionally, he plans to organize writing workshops and consultations to support emerging writers and storytellers in honing their craft.

Since its inception in 2008, the VPL Indigenous Storyteller in Residence program has played a unique and valuable role in using storytelling to highlight Indigenous traditions and contemporary culture, fostering intercultural understanding and communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Learn more at https://www.vpl.ca/storyteller.

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