Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Richard Van Camp can’t talk about his soon-to-be-released book Gather without demonstrating what it’s all about.
In a recent interview with Windspeaker.com, Van Camp’s answers easily and naturally turn into storytelling, the theme of his contribution to the Writers on Writing series by the University of Regina Press.
Storytelling is about “sensing with every cell inside of your spirit and body what needs to be said and what needs to be told, what needs to be shared. So you’re running on instinct all the time,” said Van Camp.
“Often you don’t know why you’re telling the story you are, but there’s always that acknowledgement, (someone saying) ‘I really needed that today. Thank you.’ You become a channeler for stories. The more you tell, the better you become.”
Van Camp is Tlicho Dene from Fort Smith, N.W.T., and is both a bestselling author and a master storyteller.
In 1996, when he was touring to promote his acclaimed first novel The Lesser Blessed he realized that he needed to balance the “kick through your soul” story with being “raised in paradise.” He was soon drawing in the people who came out for the literary event with his “miracle story after miracle story” of the north.
Van Camp first started gathering stories as a volunteer driver of the handi-bus in his hometown. With the permission of the Elders he was transporting, he began recording their stories. Soon he was gathering stories from Elders from a variety of locations.
“I’m so lucky, because we were raised with so many wonderful stories,” he said.
Van Camp firmly believes that everybody wants to tell their story and that doesn’t necessarily mean addressing a roomful of people. It could be as simple as sharing with an audience of one: a taxi driver, a hairdresser or a stranger on the airplane. Or, in his case, a handi-bus driver.
“We all have stories to tell. All of us. Every single one of us. I think we tell our own stories our own way, whether you’re a blogger, you’re on snapchat or you’re tweeting… We’re all looking for the backstage pass into people’s lives,” he said.
Van Camp believes that when people hear a good story they want to share it at the supper table or around the water cooler.
“When you’re in the presence of a storyteller, you just can’t wait to share those great stories. I think it’s a medicine we all want more of in our lives,” he said.
“That’s the gift of a good storyteller. A good storyteller reminds you that all storms pass. We’re here to help. We’re here to serve. As the book says, a true northerner always leaves each person and each place better than they found them.”
Van Camp shares his insights on how to wow the room in a chapter entitled “The Cheat Sheet! aka Uncle Richard Van Camp’s Storytelling Tips.”
Breaking down his technique to 15 tips through 25 years of storytelling experience wasn’t difficult, he admits, as he often delivers keynote speeches for teachers and businesses.
“Why not share the most fantastic part of your life first to just humanize yourself and really stagger your audience with awe? That’s really what it’s about. Greeting the room. Gauging what the room needs and really going from there because storytelling is, of course, a collaboration. It’s a dance of trust,” he said.
He adds that the “dance of trust” is personal and meant only for those within the room. Van Camp won’t allow people to record his storytelling sessions.
“The stories that are in the room at that time with the faces I see on the screens, those are the stories that have been called… I want it to be a spectacular event. I want it to be about spirit. I want it to be about miracles. I want it to be hilarious and inspiring,” he said.
In Gather Van Camp points out that each of his books ends with an acknowledgement of where his stories came from.
A novelist, he says, can “beg, borrow, steal” to get the story done, but not so the storyteller.
“When you are gifted by story, you have a life debt to that storyteller. I have a life debt to all those storytellers. Each one has been paid, a contract has been signed, a copy of the book (given). But it’s more than that,” he said. “There is a protocol. There is a debt and an honouring forever.”
Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling will be available in May. It can be pre-ordered now at https://uofrpress.ca/Books/G/Gather