Though author, journalist and broadcaster Waubgeshig Rice moved on from his career with CBC to focus on his literary career, given his last role with them as host of CBC Radio Sudbury’s UpNorth, it seems natural he would continue talking on air – in one form or another.
That form is a podcast, a natural fit. The unscripted part, less so.
“Coming from the broadcast journalism world where everything is scripted and everything is planned down to the minute, it's been kind of funny, breaking that mold myself,” said Rice. “I sort of found myself reverting to having been a host, I was like, “Oh, I have to steer the conversation’.”
The first episode of the podcast, Storykeepers was spent having to remind himself to let go.
“I'd have to tell myself again, dude, you can relax a little bit,” said Rice, “You can allow certain things to happen. You're not confined to these rigid formats anymore.”
And it is the loosening of this rigid format that makes the podcast what the two creators intended, a book club, of sorts. “Because our usual book club,” said Rice, “you set a date, everybody reads the book, and you get together and share.”
The idea arose a little more than four years ago while Rice was living in Ottawa, brought to him by Jennifer David, an Ottawa-based author, former director of communications for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and a member of the Chapleau Cree First Nation.
“All of it wasn’t possible back then,” said Rice. “But she reached out to me again late last spring, early summer, and said ‘Hey, remember that podcast idea I floated a while back? Want to try it this time?’”
Despite having two young boys at home and a novel to write — the sequel to the well-received post-apocalypse tale “Moon of the Crusted Snow” — as well serving as a faculty member for an online writer’s course at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Rice thought it was a fantastic time.
March 4 saw the first episode online, discussing ‘Why Indigenous Literatures Matter’ (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2018) by Daniel Heath Justice. An episode to be released April 4 discusses Halfbreed (McClelland & Stewart, 2019) by Maria Campbell and on May 4, Return of the Trickster (Knopf, 2021) by Eden Robinson, which is the third and final book in the popular “Return of the Trickster” series and contains an epigraph taken from Rice’s first short story collection, “Midnight Sweatlodge.” (Theytus Books Ltd., 2011)
The podcast’s website, StorykeepersPodcast.ca, has a listing for the year, as well as a guide to finding the books to be discussed.
There are some months left unscheduled, however. Again, the unscripted nature allows the hosts to discuss new releases, books that are topical or in the news, as well as the classics that they hope to introduce new audiences to.
Those audiences include anyone who wants to listen. Including as a part of school programming.
“We want everyone to access this and to use it however they see fit,” said Rice. “We want to learn and we want to have interesting discussions with guest hosts who also love these works and can reflect on how important they are, not only to them, but to Indigenous communities and Canadians more widely. We are just thrilled that people are interested in it.”
With a little help from an Ontario Arts Council grant, the duo was able to hire a graphic designer for a logo, a musician for a theme song and a web designer for a website.
“All of that hiring was because of the grant, which is so helpful at this time when everybody’s looking for that support.”
The podcasts and books will have Indigenous authors, communities and realities at their hearts, but it won’t just be fiction. Rice and David will be including non-fiction, plays and poetry collections as well.
“We really do want to bring as many voices to this as possible,” said Rice. “Everybody's a story keeper. Not just the authors that we're featuring, or the guest authors that we're interviewing, and not just us, either.
“Readers, writers, speakers, community members who share their realities are all keepers of important stories. Despite what has happened to Indigenous people everywhere, it's the stories that really kept everyone going and kept that awareness in the community. It's sort of an homage to the work that goes into keeping stories alive and making sure that they're shared and that they're perpetuated, and that culture stays alive.”
You can find the Storykeepers podcast on Apple and Spotify or by visiting StorykeepersPodcast.ca.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. She covers the Black, immigrant, Indigenous and Franco-Ontarian communities.