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Arts Council Wood Buffalo Hosts Renowned Indigenous Author Wayne Arthurson

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When Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) took over the Artist in Residency program from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo - highlighting writers was a priority. Their first guest in the series was renowned Indigenous author Wayne Arthurson, who was in town from December 10 to 15.

Based in Edmonton, Arthurson is a professional writer of Cree and French Canadian descent with over 30 years of experience. He is the author of the bestselling and award-winning Leo Desroches crime series, and has won the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award. He is a freelance journalist as well, and his work has appeared in over 100 publications.

ACWB hosted a reading of his new book The Red Chesterfield (University of Calgary Press) at the Wood Buffalo Regional Library, a novel he says is different from his other works, which are mostly crime fiction.

“The style is different for this novel. There’s crime in it, but people say there’s poetry too. I came up with the idea as I was writing another novel, became stuck, and began writing this one,” Arthurson shares.

Commenting on Indigenous literature in Canada, Athurson notes, the genre is growing.

“We have a lot of writers getting a lot of attention, and selling many books. We have Waubgeshig Rice’s “Moon of the Crusted Snow,” a great apocalyptic book set on a reserve; we have Cheri Demaline, whose work will be a television show, and many more. I wouldn’t call it a renaissance of Indigenous literature, but people have certainly started paying attention to the tapestry of Indigenous writers doing different things. I am happy and proud to see this.”

Commenting on different themes, Arthurson adds the variety of work from Indigenous writers now varies instead of the traditional trauma focus only.

“This is not a dichotomy. Indigenous writers have different ideas. As a crime writer, I’m often put into a box too, but I also do other writing. People need to know my works can and do vary. I can’t be pigeonholed into a genre. So I challenge assumptions. Readers are smart, they know to appreciate variety.”

Arthurson also met with members of the local arts scene. He found our region’s focus on the arts impressive.

“Any community with a strong arts scene is a strong community. Arts not only help the economy, they helps the spirit. Economically it’s been proven one dollar spent on art translates into $10 in the community. Art connects and builds.”

Speaking of connecting and building, Sharon Heading, Arts Recovery Project Coordinator with the ACWB oversees the Artist in Residency program. She sheds light on the initiative.

“We wanted to do something significant and more than just studio-based residency. With so many amazing writers in town, we wanted to do something with writing. Earlier this year we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo, and Wayne was their Human Rights Day keynote speaker. We wanted to extend his visit for our program as well.”

Heading adds Artist in Residency is also a way to extend programming into rural communities, which are predominantly Indigenous.

“Wayne shared stories of his background, and hit a chord with the audience in Fort McKay, which also featured Elders. They enjoyed listening to him.”

“The program is also our way of drawing out writers, who are not necessarily always vocal about their work. Visual artists and performers are more out front. We have large egos, because they get chipped away. We are loud and we take up a lot of room. With writers I had to push all of my sales and social skills to engage them, and draw them out. Their work is solitary. It’s a different art, and this was a good exercise to keep them engaged and advocating.”

This engagement and advocacy is what inspires Arthurson to return to our city for future events.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to be here, and connect with people and Elders, which I love. I will return to tell everyone Fort McMurray is in a good place with a positive future for the arts.”


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.