Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with James Bartleman

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James Bartleman

Former lieutenant governor of Ontario James Bartleman's life has been an inspiration to many. From early childhood poverty to his rapid rise as a diplomat and eventually to the province's highest honour, he broke barriers and empowered others to dream of following in his footsteps. He made history as the first Indigenous person to attain the position of lieutenant governor in Ontario, and now he shares his inspiring life story in Seasons of Hope: Memoirs of Ontario’s First Aboriginal Lieutenant Governor (Dundurn Press). In the book, he credits learning to read at an early age as the first important step that led him to his future successes.

We're pleased to welcome Mr. Bartleman to Open Book today to speak about Seasons of Hope. He tells us about a traumatic and violent incident that lead to his determination to write the book, the incredible array of programmes he launched in his role as lieutenant governor, and the important subject he will be tackling in his next book.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

James Bartleman:

In my new book, I look back over seventy years to my childhood and youth to describe how learning to read at an early age led me to dream dreams empowering me to serve Canada as an ambassador or high commissioner in more than a dozen countries around the world. Life was good until I was viciously beaten in a hotel room robbery in South Africa in which I nearly died. In the end, I overcame Post Traumatic Stress by taking up writing and Seasons of Hope is my eighth book.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book?

JB:

To the extent there is a central theme in the book it is that learning to read at an early age and developing a love of books allowed me to escape a life of poverty and social marginalisation that came with my identity as an indigenous person.

OB:

Did the book change significantly from when you first started working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

JB:

When I was half-way through the drafting, I decided that I would turn it into a book of true stories and photographs. They would be drawn from all four seasons of my life, some as brief vignettes, others based on diary entries, and others longer accounts of some of the big foreign policy issues I dealt with during my diplomatic career as well as the programs I launched as lieutenant governor to establish libraries on First Nations communities, a book club, literary awards, and a program of summer reading camps that now take place evert summer in more than one hundred First Nations across Canada.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

JB:

Just a pad of paper and a pen.

OB:

What do you do if you feel discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

JB:

I go for a long walk.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

JB:

Rounded characters and a great theme. My two favourites are War and Peace by Tolstoy and My Michael by Amos Oz.

OB:

What are you working on now?

JB:

A novel on disappeared and murdered indigenous women.


James Bartleman is the former lieutenant governor of Ontario and the bestselling author of the novels As Long as the Rivers Flow and The Redemption of Oscar Wolf. A member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, he is also a retired ambassador and a member of the Order of Canada. He lives in Perth, Ontario.

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