Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers, edited by Maurice Kenny

Due to limited budgets, we too often don't hear about outstanding books published by small presses. Small presses can't afford to send their books out for review, so they're not reviewed in the major journals.

Stories for a Winter's Night: Fiction by Native American Writers is one of those books. Published by White Pine Press in Buffalo, NY, it came out in 2000. In 2001, Skipping Stones included it on their 2001 list of Honor Award books. I learned of it, I think, through Richard Van Camp.

Stories written by Native authors...

Well known writers like Joseph Bruchac and James Welch whose works teachers and librarians are familiar with...

Writers the general public knows (those that read Native lit): Wendy Rose, Kimberly M. Blaeser, Simon Ortiz, Leslie Marmon Silko...

In all 37 stories and poems, by 36 different Native writers. Some you know, some you don't, some you should.

The collection is wide-ranging in scope. There's a boarding school story, a traditional story... Stories about children, and animals. By living writers, and some who've passed on, this book will be terrific in a high school English lit class. The stories will generate much discussion. I'll include one below, as a sample.

Here is a list of each story/poem and its author. And, the intro is by esteemed scholar of Native literatures, A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff.

The Stolen Girl - Traditional Cheyenne Story (Grinnell)
The Flood - Joy Harjo (Muscogee-Creek)
White-Out - Phyllis Wlf (assininiboine/Ojibway)
Needles - Ray Fadden (Tehanetorens; Mohawk)
Coyote Meets Raven - Peter Blue Cloud (Mohawk)
Dlanusi - Robert J. Conley (Cherokee)
Deer Dance - Evelina Zuni Lucero (Isleta-San Juan)
Nothing to Give - Gail Trembley (Onondaga-Micmac)
The Hunter - Larry Littlebird (Laguna/Santa Domingo)
Subway Graffiti - Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok)
The Car Wreck - Dwayne Leslie Bowen (Seneca)
Hogart - Ted Williams (Tuscarora)
King of the Raft - Daniel David Moses (Delaware)
Shapechanger - Ines Hernandez-Avila (Nez Perce/Chicano)
Brewing Trouble - Kimberly M. Blaeser (Anishinabe)
Benefit Dinner - Eric Gansworth (Onondaga)
Peter Schuyler and the Mohican: A Story of Old Albany - Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
We're Very Poor - Juan Rulfo (Mexican Native)
Webs - Lorne Simon (Micmac)
Earl Yellow Calf - James Welch (Blackfeet/Gros Ventre)
Hici - Craig Womack (Muscogee-Creek/Cherokee)
On Old 66 - Carol Yazzi-Shaw (Navajo)
A Child's Story - Elizabeth Cook-Lynn (Santee/Yankton Sioux)
The Bear Hunt - Louis Littlecoon Oliver (Muscogee-Creek)
Yellow Cat Incident - Louis Littlecoon Oliver (Muscogee-Creek)
Train Time - D'Arcy McNickle (Salish/Metis)
The Blanket - Maria Campbell (Metis)
Haksod - John C. Mohawk (Seneca)
History - Gloria Bird (Spokane)
Oh, Just Call Me an Indian - Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibway)
Tahotahotanekentseratkerontakwenhakie - Sallli Benedict (Mohawk)
Che - Anna Lee Walters (Otoe/Pawnee)
His Wife Had Caught Them Before - Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna)
She Sits on the Bridge - Luci Tapahonso (Navajo)
The Panther Waits - Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma)
Piegan Still Life - Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
The Derelict - E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk)


Gail Trembly

The woman was young, blond, beautiful

like the girls in slick magazines who model

jeans. She chose to wear a bone choker

with an ermine tail as though it is possible
to appropriate a culture by wearing its artifacts.

She read a poem in which she said that she was

the white girl who always wanted to be Indian
when she grew up. I sat feeling sick, recognizing

that strange phantom pain in the gut, listening

to her romantic distortions about Eagle boy dancing
in her dreams, about cruel Indian men who undressed

her and then scolded her for being naked before

them when she was on her moon. She invented

unreality because she refused to witness the real

hard work of living in a world distorted by forced

assimilation, by faked authenticity, by loss

that beat in counter rhythm near the heart
and made the whole world seem out of balance.

She did not speak of struggle, stolen land,

the Earth raped so that strangers could reap
great profits no matter what the cost. Her desire
was for vision to fill an empty life. One more

taker, she invented ceremonies that mystified,
that made healing seem a hollow exercise untied

from the web of light that weaves things seamlessly

into being, untied from the people who for generations

shared a sense of what made things whole in a given

place. I sat and watched speechless, caught,
too paralyzed to walk away and make a scene,
aware how often revelation is impossible to explain.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

ALA President, Loriene Roy (Anishinabe)

The president of the American Library Association is Loriene Roy. She is Anishinabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa), and has done a lot of excellent work with Native children through her "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything" program. She is a long-term member of the American Indian Library Association.

Loriene was on NPR recently, talking about multicultural literature. Click here to listen to the interview. She talked about Baby's First Laugh, by Beverly Blacksheep, one of the board books discussed on this blog last summer (Tuesday, July 18, 2006).

And, keep up with Loriene by visiting her blog, "Pin-ding-u-daud-ewin" which means "to enter into one another's lodges" or her website.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

THOMAS KING lectures on-line

If you know Thomas King's A Coyote Columbus Story, you might be interested in listening to him on line.

In the last weeks, the Australian aboriginal radio program, "Awaye," has been broadcasting a series of Massey Lectures given by King in 2003. Two segments on line are:

King's novels are terrific. There are several weeks left in the summer. Add one to your summer reading list, and scoot it to the one you read next. They are:

  • Medicine River
  • Green Grass, Running Water
  • Truth and Bright Water

They'd work well in a senior high school lit class. Listen to the segment on line, but read his novels, too, and his most recent book, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. All are available from the non-profit organization, Oyate.

Some years ago, King had a radio program called Dead Dog Cafe. Get them, too, from Oyate.

(Note: Thanks to Ashley T., a student at UIUC. I made my way to the King segments after reading quotes from Million Porcupines on her Facebook page.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Eds note: Updated on June 8, 2015 to reflect Rowling's tweets.

Initial post: July 24, 2007:

The first Harry Potter book came out when my daughter, Liz, was in grade school. We do a lot of reading-aloud in our home, and we read the HP books aloud, taking turns reading.

Liz went out late Friday night to pick up a copy of the seventh book. Saturday morning we began reading it aloud. We finished last night (Monday).

(If you're reading the book and do not want to know any of the content until you've finished it yourself, you should stop reading this post.)

I was reading aloud when we got to page 216. At that point in the book, Harry is looking at a photograph of Albus Dumbledore's family. We were surprised to read this:

The mother, Kendra, had jet-black hair pulled into a high bun. Her face had a carved quality about it. Harry thought of photos of Native Americans he'd seen as he studied her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and straight nose, formally composed above a high-necked silk gown.

Liz and I were surprised and yet not surprised, given the degree to which pop culture uses Native imagery.

Some thoughts:

Harry/Rowling may be referring to the engraving of Pocahontas, shown above. There is an oil painting based on the engraving, in the National Portrait Gallery. From the Smithsonian website is this info:

Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas, after the 1616 engraving by Simon van de Passe, NPG.65.61
National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

The engraving was acquired from Maggs Brothers, in London. You can see a larger image here. There's another one here. Note the differences in hat/earrings. There are other paintings of her that Rowling may have seen, but they don't show Pocahontas in the "high-necked silk dress," so I'm pretty sure it is this engraving she's being influenced by.

So what to make of Rowling's inclusion of this passage? Many readers of the books would assert that race /racial purity is a prominent if not THE theme on which the entire series is built on. The cast of characters is diverse, too, but till Deathly Hallows, there had not been anything with regard to American Indians. With this passage, can we say her book is more inclusive now? Is it, really, though? Or, does it matter?

(Note: There's a provocative on-line article about race in Harry Potter... Called "Harry Potter and the Imbalance of Race," its author, Keith Woods, points to the normalization of whiteness in the books.)

As Liz and I read that passage in the book, we wondered if/how it would be developed in the remainder of the book. But, that was it. Given all the romantic new-age imagery associated with American Indians, I wondered if Rowling was going to go there. She didn't, and I am glad she didn't.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Update, June 8, 2015:

One of my close friends, Sarah Hamburg, wrote to me about a series of tweets Rowling sent out on June 7th. Here's a screen capture of a question to her, and her answer:

Rowling followed up with another tweet:

And then one more:

Definitely unsettling, and something to keep an eye on!