‘Gather’ focuses on the joy of storytelling

'Gather' book cover.

Review by Keith Foster

In his latest book, Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling, Richard Van Camp offers sound advice on the fine art of storytelling. He shares his insights on how and where to best gather stories and shows how to tell those stories to best advantage. He also shares examples of fine storytelling from his own collection.

Some of his advice is plain common sense, like showing respect for your listeners. After all, if there were no listeners, the speaker would have no reason to be there. Perhaps his most important tip is to listen to the storytellers – observe their mannerisms, how they raise or lower their voices, and especially when and where they pause.

Although Gather is geared primarily to an Indigenous audience, Van Camp has ample ideas for anyone who aspires to become a storyteller. A prolific storyteller himself, he’s published twenty-five books in twenty-four years, with more on the way. He gathered many of his stories from Elders while driving a Handi-Bus in Fort Smith, NT.

Van Camp claims the smartest thing he ever did, besides marry his wife, was to buy a tape recorder, which he uses constantly. After receiving permission, he records stories, then transcribes them verbatim. As a sign of respect and appreciation, he sends the recording and the transcribed story to the storyteller.

Van Camp writes in an easy to read style, as if he’s chatting with the reader in a casual conversation. Perhaps he speaks into his trusty tape recorder as he’s spontaneously thinking, then simply transcribes those words. His thoughts flow like a stream of consciousness, grasping hold of an idea and letting his words sally forth as he expands on that idea.

With the permission of the storytellers, Van Camp shares some of their experiences in Gather. One such story involves a soldier who’s severely injured in the Korean War when a concussion grenade explodes under his feet. In another, a woman tells how, when she’s left home alone as a teenager, the “Little People” in the forest protect her as three men attempt to break into her house.

Rosa Wah-Shee, Van Camp’s mother, tells of her experiences in a residential school, seen through her eyes as a five-year-old. She’s too young to attend school, but her older brothers are going and she doesn’t want to be left behind, so she sneaks onto the bus. The school is an eye-opener for her.

In another story, a geologist from Halifax, NS, while exploring Davin Lake in northern Saskatchewan, notices a cross on the shoreline. As he approaches, he sees his own name inscribed on the cross.

In his thirty-two chapters of Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling, Van Camp shares his insights on the best approaches to gathering and sharing stories, and shares a few examples of what fine storytelling is really like.

Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling
by Richard Van Camp
Published by University of Regina Press

This book is available at your bookstore or from www.skbooks.com