The characters of Moccasin Square Gardens inhabit Denendeh, the land of the people north of the sixtieth parallel. These stories are filled with in-laws, outlaws and common-laws. Get ready for illegal wrestling moves (“The Camel Clutch”), pinky promises, a doctored casino, extraterrestrials or “Sky People,” love, lust and prayers for peace.
While this is Van Camp’s most hilarious short story collection, it’s also haunted by the lurking presence of the Wheetago, human-devouring monsters of legend that have returned due to global warming and the greed of humanity. The stories in Moccasin Square Gardens show that medicine power always comes with a price.
To counteract this darkness, Van Camp weaves a funny and loving portrayal of the Tłı̨chǫ Dene and other communities of the North, drawing from oral history techniques to perfectly capture the character and texture of everyday small-town life. “Moccasin Square Gardens” is the nickname of a dance hall in the town of Fort Smith that serves as a meeting place for a small but diverse community. In the same way, the collection functions as a meeting place for an assortment of characters, from shamans and time-travelling goddess warriors to pop-culture-obsessed pencil pushers, to con artists, archivists and men who just need to grow up, all seeking some form of connection.
About the author
Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, NWT.He is a graduate of the En'owkin International School of Writing, the University of Victoria's Creative Writing BFA Program, and the Master's Degree in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. He is an internationally renowned storyteller and best-selling author. His novel, The Lesser Blessed, is now a movie with First Generation Films and premiered in September of 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival. He is the author of four collections of short stories, Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go, Godless but Loyal to Heaven and Night Moves, as well as two children's books with Cree artist, George Littlechild: A Man Called Raven and What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?His first baby book, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, was the official selection of the Books for BC Babies program and was given to every newborn baby in British Columbia in 2008. Richard followed this up with another board book: Nighty-Night: A Bedtime Song for Babies. His third book for babies, Little You, is now out with Orca Book Publishers. The amazing Julie Flett is the artist. Little You is published in Bush Cree, Dene and South Slavey, courtesy of the South Slave Divisional Board of Education. His new book for babies with Julie Flett is called "We Sang You Home" and it is gorgeous!All of Richard Van Camp's children's books are available in Braille for free, anywhere in the world, courtesy of the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (PRCVI) and Accessible Resource Centre-British Columbia (ARC-BC)Richard has six graphic novels and comic books out: his first comic book on deterring youth away from gangs, Path of the Warrior, is published with Cree artist, Steve Sanderson, through the Healthy Aboriginal Network. His second comic book on sexual health is Kiss Me Deadly, with Haida artist Chris Auchter. His four graphic novels are Three Feathers (published in Bush Cree, Dene, South Slavey and English, illustrated by Krystal Mateus, on restorative justice; The Eisner Award Nominated A Blanket of Butterflies, on the theme of peace making, illustrated by Scott Henderson, The Blue Raven, illustrated by Steve Sanderson on mental health, and Spirit, a suicide prevention comic book illustrated by Emily Brown (which is also published in Bush Cree, Dene, and South Slavey and English).
- Short-listed, ReLit Award for Short Fiction
- Short-listed, Alberta Literary Award (Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction)
- Short-listed, Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic: Adult Fiction
- Winner, CODE Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Young Adult Literature
“If you’re starting to feel a little like you’ve just arrived at a house party, when you were expecting an intimate dinner for two, that’s good preparation...Van Camp is an exceptionally welcoming storyteller. Even when he’s talking about the end of the world, he’s got this way of making you feel like you could move closer to the fire and all will be well. It’s easy to forget that the fire could be apocalyptic.
Whether or not the stories are printed on paper, you can feel that they are meant to be told and heard as much as, in this format, they are to be read. Oral storytelling is a keystone in Richard Van Camp’s Tłı̨chǫ Dene community, and his collections offer a glimpse of his skill and the world he inhabits...
Readers who appreciate linked short story collections like these will find the breadth of Van Camp’s work particularly satisfying. Readers who enjoy the work of Indigenous storytellers from other nations—like Sherman Alexie (Spokane-Coeur d’Alene), Dawn Dumont (Cree-Métis), and Thomas King (Cherokee-German-Greek)—will want to add Van Camp’s books to their stacks. And readers looking to expand their worlds on the page beyond the 60th parallel, who are keen on short fiction by writers like Junot Díaz, Simon Rich, and Helen Simpson, also will be pleased to visit Moccasin Square Gardens.”
Marcie McCauley, <i>The /tƐmz/ Review</i>
“The fact that Richard Van Camp doesn’t have his own national radio show, à la the late Stuart McLean, is a bit of a disappointment. Van Camp is Canada's greatest oral storyteller, a brilliant weaver of tales about the lives of Indigenous Canadians...If you ever get the chance to see Van Camp at a reading, or any other literary event, drop everything and go. Until he gets a radio show, there's Moccasin Square Gardens, Van Camp's new collection...the collection's finest entries are actually a duo of connected futuristic horror stories...This diptych forms a classic invasion story, up there with anything King, Straub, or Barker has written. But in Van Camp's hands, it is also a powerful allegory about colonialism and its after-effects.”
Wayne Arthurson, <i>Quill & Quire</i>
“An eclectic mix of stories, sometimes irreverent and occasionally scarifying.... ‘Super Indians,’ one of the strongest stories...has the wise-cracking attitude of early Sherman Alexie...Van Camp can tweak this approach to make it more compassionate, as in ‘The Promise,’ in which two boys practice pro-wrestling moves on each other to help cope with their fathers' absences. Or he can reshape it into bleak horror, as in a pair of stories in which global warming unleashes an army of demons called the Wheetago. Van Camp is mainly concerned with everyday lives in the region where he grew up in the Northwest Territories, and he can give everyday experience a Thurber-esque charm…Van Camp seems capable of bringing glints of humor to nearly every predicament, be it world-ending or just day-wrecking. Straight talk and dark fantasy from an underappreciated corner of North America.”
“Reading Van Camp’s stories is like sitting around the kitchen table, sipping strong tea and listening to the aunties share some really good gossip. And, like that gossip, you need to pay attention because he is saying just as much in his silences as he is with his words.”
Katherena Vermette, author of <i>The Break</i>
“Van Camp’s keen ear for dialogue and lithe storytelling breathe hope and humour even into the darkest corners of human existence. His boldest, most compelling collection yet.”
Eden Robinson, author of <i>Trickster Drift</i>
“Richard Van Camp grins mischievously at us from the 10 stories that make up his latest collection, Moccasin Square Gardens. By turns playful and intimate, sobering and brash, the stories take us through Van Camp’s vision of Indigenous people in the 21st century, showing how their communities are adapting to and warding off the ‘after-effects’ of colonial life.
The collection bears Van Camp’s signature style—a deft touch in crafting first-person narratives that allow us to float among his characters’ various states of mind and voices...In being taken up by the speculative, spiritual and secular themes explored by this collection, and by floating among Van Camp’s created worlds, readers will alight on stories that transcend and elude the everyday, finding a rich and varied storytelling tradition that is both illuminating and thought-provoking.”
Cheryl Suzak, <i>Globe and Mail</i>
“...stories that pull no punches...Van Camp unapologetically shifts between sci-fi, romance, rez politics, nostalgia, medicine power, and horror. Yet, the stories remain grounded in a deep love for the people of Fort Smith. Whether facing the threat of aliens, wheetago, corrupt politicians, or ‘track pant-and hoodie-wearing Bong Generation scruffians,’ Van Camp shows that the world his characters inhabit can and must be saved. The hilarity along the way serves to temper the all-too-real consequences of ignoring ecological catastrophes like the tar sands.”
Michael Minor, <i>Canadian Literature</i>
“...a collection of stories that is by turns funny and sorrowful, but always charming. This latest collection of stories reaffirms Van Camp’s growth into a consummate writer of short fiction. The stories are fun and accessible on the surface, yet deeply layered and complex in their aesthetic structure. Van Camp is a master at equally balancing the comic, the tragic, the speculative, the fantastic and the real in this sublime short story collection. This collection is enthralling, exciting, and wholly original—this is a vital book.”
The Alberta Literary Awards Jury
“The conversational tone will keep you gobbling up the pages. This book reminds us that Van Camp is an essential voice in Canadian Indigenous literature, a vital group of writers and activists who are driving our literature and our people forward. Don’t forget to read to the end for a knock-knock joke and a beautiful little poem that crystallizes the work, a prayer for the past, and for the future that is starting right now.”
Paul Falardeau, <i>The Ormsby Review</i>
“...Van Camp’s new stories are diverse in style and subject matter, but they are tied together by an uncompromising morality: they all illustrate the urgent need for humans to eschew the greed and selfishness that drives so much of their lives...two stories in particular will chill you to the bone, incite panic and move you to treat the Earth better. ‘Lying in Bed Together’ and ‘Summoners.’ These two stories are terrifying, but there are many hilarious scenes in this collection, as well as tender ones. Van Camp keeps readers on their toes with these shifts in genre and tone, but he employs just the right amount of tension so it never feels like one style overtakes the others. This book is a real treat, one that Van Camp clearly put much of himself into, and with such skill.”
Alex Mlynek, <i>Broadview Magazine</i>
“Moccasin Square Gardens is the work of a master storyteller...this collection of short stories...moves without a stumble from tragedy to farce to science fiction and horror, then back to tragedy, and then on again to comedy, creating characters and events that will remain with you forever. Even his darkest narratives are illuminated by joy and laughter...Van Camp’s stories are gifts to the reader. This book conveys an essential Canadian voice, a serious meditation on themes of life, love, death and band politics, and creates a healing space of laughter and compassion. Highly recommended.”
Tom Sandborn, <i>Vancouver Sun</i>
“Richard Van Camp knows how to tell stories about the closest matters of the heart and the deepest mysteries of the cosmos...What unites each story in the collection is a belief in the good humour and strength of humanity, at least if we can pull ourselves back from the brink of self-destruction... Van Camp makes it clear that he’s not waiting for intervention from above to solve our problems.
“This whole collection is a fight,” he says, “a fight for better leadership, a fight for an unwounded planet, a fight for an undoomed future, a fight against molesters, a fight against 28-year-olds still living at home yelling at their moms if their laundry isn’t done.”
Charlie Crittenden, <i>Daze Magazine</i>
“...fierce and funny...this superb storyteller is among the Indigenous authors every Canadian should know.”
Susan B. Cole, <i>Now Magazine</i>
“... an essential Indigenous voice in Canadian literature. In Moccasin Square Gardens, a collection of 10 short stories, Van Camp brings humour and specificity to stories about the modern lives of Indigenous Canadians…They’re funny though, promise!”
Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Refinery29.com
“Richard Van Camp has gleaned the old in the new. He holds the endangered precious out, and shows us where it is kept.”
Tantoo Cardinal, award-winning film and television actor
Other titles by Richard Van Camp
As I Enfold You in Petals
A Blanket of Butterflies
Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling
Little You / Gidagaashiinh
Det’oni-t’á tai / Three Feathers
Angel Wing Splash Pattern
20th Anniversary Edition