Member of Kwantlen First Nation Named Vancouver Public Library Storyteller in Residence

Poet, playwright, actor, and archeologist Joseph Dandurand will be filling the role for 2019

Joseph A. Dandurand (Vancouver Public Library)

According to Kwantlen First Nations member Joseph Dandurand, everybody is born with a gift. His just happens to be storytelling.

Dandurand has been many things throughout his life—among them, a poet, playwright, actor, and archeologist. Most recently, he has been granted the position of the Vancouver Public Library’s Indigenous storyteller in residence for 2019.

Dandurand says it is an “honour” to be appointed to the position, and considers the storyteller in residence program, which was created in 2008 and was the first of its kind in the province, a wonderful opportunity “for native writers to have the time to sit down [and] write.”

Though he is a proud storyteller today, Dandurand says that his journey to becoming one hasn’t been easy. Dropping out of school in grade nine led him to alcoholism at the age of 19 and drug addiction by 26. It wasn’t until he was in recovery that he enrolled in college and found his path in writing. When a short story of his received high praise from his teacher and classmates, Dandurand began to recognize that he had a gift. He was encouraged to keep writing by his instructor and has never stopped.

Dandurand’s work has taken him all over the continent. After traveling for years with his plays, Dandurand  “was on [his] way to live in Mexico and write bad poetry on the beach” when Kwantlen Chief Marilyn Gabriel asked him to stay and work at the local Kwantlen Cultural Center, where he now serves as a director.

He has a unique way of letting his stories come to him. Dandurand says he does not believe in writer’s block, but simply knows “when not to write.” He waits until the story is ready to be told through him, and says that they often come to him through visions or via inspiration from specific objects.

The idea for one of his most renowned plays came to him while he was travelling from Texas to his then home in Toronto. When his bus stopped at a Greyhound station, Dandurand couldn’t help but notice two wooden figures outside of a gift shop with a sign around their necks reading, “Please don’t touch the Indians.” This later became the title of his play.

Nowadays, Dandurand says that his life is very different from his youth. “Three kids, a mortgage, broken marriage, [and] not going to Mexico real soon,” he adds.

A dedicated father to his children, Dandurand explains that one of his main concerns has been how to raise his kids in a safe environment free of alcohol and drugs.

His best advice for success in life, wherever it may take us, is to keep going and allow the beauty of life’s simplicity to reach us, as it has the power to calm us down and keep us grounded. Being able to reconnect with his background in the Kwantlen First Nation has allowed him to realize what he calls one of the most profound teachings of his culture: “It’s a hard life, but a good life.”

Dandurand has been the author of 12 books of poetry, including I Want (Leaf Press, 2015), Hear and Foretell (Bookland Press, 2015) and The Rumor (Bookland Press, 2018). His latest title, SH:LAM (The Doctor), will be released by Mawenzi Press in April 2019. Anyone interested in visiting him in his capacity as VPL storyteller can consult a list of upcoming events on the VPL website.

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