Author hopes to deliver an uplifting and educational story about cultural identity to classrooms and beyond
Drum from the Heart, the first book authored by Ren Louie, is a coming of age story about a nine-year-old boy who is gifted his first drum. Illustrated by Karlene Harvey and published by Medicine Wheel Publishing, the children’s story explores the boy’s cultural identity and how the affirmation of understanding his identity helps to boost his sense of confidence.
“I know there was a time when the only options for Indigenous literature were misrepresentation or no representation,” said Louie. “So to combat those issues, I would like to tell stories that are authentic and appreciative of the Indigenous experience in the 21st century.”
Louie, Wikinanish (Eldest son) of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth from the Ahousaht First Nation, began writing Drum from the Heart in September 2019 after taking a gap year between starting at UVic and finishing his Indigenous Studies Diploma at Camosun College. “I always feared that my writing skills would get rusty during my time off,” said Louie about his gap year. “So I chose to remain active by reading and writing.”
Louie says that his inspiration to keep writing Drum from the Heart came from when he met Lee Maracle, a prolific Indigenous writer, in March 2019.
“When we met,” said Louie about their interaction, “she talked about how over 20 000 books are cited in a child’s K-12 education. So it is important that as an Indigenous community, we get writing to help take up space in some of those 20 000 book citations. Thus allowing our kids to learn authentically about Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing.”
Further on this point, Louie expressed an interest in telling stories that focus on Indigenous healing rather than Indigenous trauma. “I would prefer to make my readers laugh, rather than cry. I think that’s the next step in reconciliation,” the young author said. “We need to uphold the positive dynamics of Indigenous culture and share the light-sided sense of humour that Indigenous peoples know and love.”
While there is value in exploring trauma through art, there is just enough value in exploring love. As Louie alludes to, if there are only stories about Indigenous trauma, it doesn’t tell the whole experience.
Louie’s choice of publisher reflects this line of thought as well. According to their website, Medicine Wheel Publishing specializes in publishing “culturally authentic Indigenous books, resources, and tools specialized for moral and cultural education.”
Louie reached out to Medicine Wheel Publishing because he knew how effective their books were in classrooms.
“Each book is accompanied by a lesson plan that teachers all across the country can use. The lesson plans are comprehensive and explain to the instructor how the book directly ties into their provincial curriculum.” Drum from the Heart also has a lesson plan tied to it that Louie helped to write.
With Louie being a new writer, he said that “it still feels quite surreal and nerve-racking.” He’s looking forward to seeing the public’s response to the book, and hopes that the work he, Harvey, and Medicine Wheel Publishing produced lives up the expectations.
This being his first book, and the start of his writing career, Louie is still learning about his writing process. One thing that he learned in writing Drum from the Heart is that a writer “can never be too descriptive.”
“Next time you write a story, talk about the appearance of an object, the texture, and the smell. Discuss what that object means to you, how it makes you feel and what its purpose is,” he said. “Only then do you begin to open up about how captivating any story can be, so long as the details are not skipped over.”
Louie also commented that the writing process behind Drum from the Heart was fun. He wrote the initial four drafts with the help of his friend, elementary school librarian Sue Panton.
“She was such a wonderful help throughout the whole process. And then once Medicine Wheel had accepted the manuscript, I did four more drafts with the editor,” said the author.
“The process was rather unique as I also needed to ensure that the cultural components came from a place of cultural appreciation for my Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture and not cultural appropriation.”
In regards to the future, Louie expressed a desire to continue writing and publishing books.
“Medicine Wheel has become a family to me,” he said “I absolutely want to continue a career in writing. I have a few projects in the works and I am comfortable exploring other genres. Drum from the Heart certainly will not be my last piece.”
Drum from the Heart is available for pre-order on the Medicine Wheel website. The book’s release date is May 15, 2022.