A writer for all seasons

(Edmonton) Richard Van Camp may be the new writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, but it’s best not to count him as a one-trick pony.

“I’m an air guitarist and an air drummer. I’m very good at it, but in the privacy of my own office, when I should be working,” he says jokingly.”Don’t be surprised if, when you walk by my office, you see me flailing.”

An aficionado of a wide range of music, an avid reader, former doodler and one-time writing intern for CBC’s North of 60, Van Camp’s interests extend to collecting toys and photography as well. He’s also currently involved in helping usher three of his projects to film.

If there is a theme here, it would seem to be one of creative expression. And when one speaks with Van Camp, it’s hard not to miss the energy and the passion that reveals his creative spirit.

Born in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories and a member of the Dogrib First Nation, he credits his family and his experiences growing up that made him fearful of drugs and alcohol as the reasons for remaining, as he says, “innocent and youthful at heart.”

“That’s why I think I’m able to write baby books, comic books, children’s books, as well as for young adults and adults,” said Van Camp.
Van Camp’s first book, The Lesser Blessed, was, he says, a five-year labour of love, a story he wrote because it was something he wanted to read. Yet, he says when it came out, the fear of success hit him�hard. He says schools can teach people how to write, but none can prepare them for what it feels like when their first book comes out.

“Suddenly you’re open to judgment, you’re open to blame,” said Van Camp. “I was struck by that and was calling people, saying, ‘don’t buy the book, I’ve done something wrong.’ I was terrified.”

Yet the fear of being a published author seemed to subside when publishing houses began calling him seeking material. Soon after came A Man Called Raven, then another children’s book, a short story anthology, and a book called Welcome Song for Baby, which was given to all newborns in British Columbia in 2008 by the Books for B.C. Babies program.

Van Camp has been occupied over the last decade with writing, reading and mentoring others. He says the trick to writing is for the writer to be open to when the spirit of the story calls to them.

“As writers, as creators, we’re channelers, and the key is to be open because when you’re hunting a story and a story is hunting you,” he said. “The key is to honour the spirit of that story.”

As the Department of English and Film Studies writer-in-residence, Van Camp will provide guidance and advice to students, professors and members of the general public, and will help launch the “Creative Writing Towards Literacy” partnership project between the University of Alberta and Learning Centre Literacy Association at Boyle Street Community Services.

Regardless of who he is working with, Van Camp knows the formula that he will offer to the aspiring writers in that project.

“I want them to dare themselves to write the story of their dreams,” said Van Camp. “You’re not going to break anything. Chances are you’re not going to hurt anybody.

“The beauty of fiction is you can fix things in your stories that may be broken in life. You can do in your fiction what you would never dare dream of doing in real life.” “