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Born in 1900 on a potato farm in Oyama in the Okanagan Valley, Harry Robinson grew up in a small village in the Similkameen Valley of south-central B.C. as a member of the Lower Similkameen Band of the Interior Salish people. A rancher for most of his life, Robinson also looked upon himself as one of the last storytellers of his people. In his boyhood, he spent long hours in the company of his grandmother and other elders, who told him numerous stories that would later become central to his life. He attended a local day school when he was thirteen but soon quit because of the twelve-mile travelling distance.
Nonetheless, he was determined to learn to read and write, and, at the age of twenty-two, he enlisted the help of a friend, Margaret Holding, in his quest to master these skills. In the early 1970s, after the death of his wife, Robinson began to reflect upon the hundreds of stories that he had learned in childhood. As he came to realize fully the importance of the storytelling tradition in his community, he began telling stories in the Okanagan language and became as skilled in English storytelling by his mid-seventies. Wendy Wickwire met Robinson while working on her doctoral thesis and recognized what, as Thomas King would later suggest, may well be “the most powerful storytelling voice in North America.” She began recording the stories in 1977, with Robinson’s approval, and brought them together in the award-winning collection Write It on Your Heart.
Robinson took his role as a storyteller very seriously and worried about the survival of the oral tradition and his stories. “I’m going to disappear”, he told one reporter, “and there’ll be no more telling stories.” He passed away in 1990—shortly after the publication of Write It on Your Heart, the first of three story collections which will ensure the survival of the epic world of Harry Robinson in many generations to come.”
October 2013 : Similkameen Crossroads: A New NFB Release
BOOK AWARDSWrite It on Your Heart
Finalist for the 1990 BC Book Prize: Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize
BOOK AWARDSNature Power
B.C. Book Prize Winner, 1993”
QUOTES OF NOTELiving by Stories
Whenever I need to be reminded that language is magic and that stories can change the world, I go to Robinson.
— Thomas King
QUOTES OF NOTENature Power
Epic, mesmerizing tales by a great Okanagan storyteller that lift [one] earily and movingly into a different world.
— Michele Landsberg, Toronto Star
QUOTES OF NOTEWrite It on Your Heart
“Write It on Your Heart is an important addition to Canadian literature not because of the range of stories or the anthropological-ethnological information they contain, but because it is one of the few pieces of transitional literature we have. It stands between traditional oral storytelling and contemporary written work, recreating at once the voice and the performance of the oral storyteller in a written form … It is the voice that captivates, a voice contained in both the language and the structures which Wendy Wickwire, who transcribed Robinson’s stories, has faithfully maintained. It is not that in reading the stories we hear the ‘illusion’ of an oral voice, for other writers have been able to accomplish this; it is that in reading Robinson, one is virtually forced to read the story out loud, thereby closing the circle, the oral becoming the written becoming the oral.”
– Thomas King
“Write It on Your Heart is nothing less than a masterwork in the genre of oral literature. Robinson’s mastery of his craft and his tradition are flawless. Wickwire’s poetic transcriptions are equally masterful.”
– Journal of American Folklore
“Epic, mesmerizing tales by a great Okanagan storyteller … that lift [one] eerily and movingly, into a different world.”
– Toronto Star
“Nowhere have I read a more productive synthesis of the Indian oral tradition … and the written word. A few other books have come close, but only close.”
– Vancouver Sun
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.