With an $8,000 loan for a used car, Judith Drinnan changed the literary landscape of the NWT

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Thinking back to when she started the Yellowknife Book Cellar, Judith Drinnan admits she didn’t know what she was doing at first.

She also faced hurdles in her early days.

“I was a woman, everything I did at the time, I had to take my husband to sign the papers,” she said.

But thanks to an $8,000 loan against “a little second-hand [Chevrolet] Suburban” the store opened.

In January, after keeping those doors open for more than 40 years, Drinnan handed the bookstore over to new owners.

Supporting Northern Indigenous Authors

One of the Northwest Territories’ most prolific writers says Drinnan has made immeasurable contributions to Aboriginal writers in the North.

“She’s been my partner in crime for the past 26 years as a published author,” Richard Van Camp told CBC North host Loren McGinnis. The Pioneer.

“I spent a lot of time in his office, talking, strategizing.”

He said Drinnan had played a huge role in helping him get his work published and sold, and she did the same for many other northern native authors.

Richard Van Camp has published 26 books, including novels, short stories and comics. (William Au Photography)

Drinnan recalled the first time she met a young, “bouncy” Van Camp.

“Every time he walked into the store, he was so excited,” she laughed.

Drinnan said making sure her customers have access to books from local authors is a priority.

“I just said, ‘I would like to see more people from the North write, I would like to see more stuff from people who live here, who know the North,'” she said.

Yellowknife Book Cellar owner Judith Drinnan first moved to Yellowknife in the 1970s to teach. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Van Camp said Drinnan changed the literary landscape of the Northwest Territories so that it reflects those who live there.

“When you walk into his store now, the Yellowknife Book Cellar, you look at rows and rows and rows of northern Indigenous authors with bestsellers,” he said.

“With books, you don’t have to be rich”

Drinnan said reading has always been a big part of her life and she even considers books “like friends.”

“With books you don’t have to be rich, you can go and borrow books from the library,” she said.

Growing up, every Friday, Drinnan and her parents would go to the public library and pick up 20 books.

“That’s how I learned to read all kinds of stuff, because if I ran out of reading material, I read what my parents read,” she said.

Since handing over ownership, Drinnan said she has found it “a relief” as she now has time to enjoy her catalogs and reading.


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