Born in Northwestern Ontario to Ojibway parents whose own horrific residential school experiences left them unable to care for their son, Wagamese grew up in foster homes before being adopted into an abusive household. He left at 16 and spent many years homeless, consumed by drugs and alcohol. Language and libraries provided his only escape. He carried a notebook and diligently wrote out passages by Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty, studying how those masters constructed each sentence.
Today, Richard is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost Native authors and story tellers. His impressive body of work includes six novels, a book of poetry and five non-fiction titles, including two memoirs and an anthology of his newspaper columns.
Richard has garnered a number of awards in different fields over the course of his career. In 1991, he became the first Native Canadian to win a National Newspaper Award for column writing. His debut novel, Keeper ‘n Me, published in 1994, won the Alberta Writers Guild’s Best Novel Award. He has twice won the Native American Press Association Award for his journalism, and he received the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his 2011 memoir One Story, One Song. He was also awarded the Canadian Authors Association Award for fiction in 2007 for his third novel, Dream Wheels. Most recently, Richard was honoured with the 2012 Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communications.
In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, in recognition of his lifetime of achievement in writing and publishing. A second Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree followed in 2014 from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. In 2011, Richard was the Harvey Stevenson Southam Guest Lecturer in journalism at the University of Victoria.