Thursday, July 4, 2013

Exploring Indigenous Literature with Guest Linda Rodriguez

The Fourth of July seems to me an appropriate day to talk about indigenous American literature, and I am delighted to welcome author and poet Linda Rodriguez with the first of a series of posts she has agreed to do about Native American writers. Linda, thank you so much! ~ Sheila

Three Native American Writers 

by Linda Rodriguez

When you speak of Native American literature, people usually think of Sherman Alexie or Louise Erdrich or perhaps N. Scott Momaday, if they can think of any authors, at all. These three writers are wonderful, and I don’t want to disparage their work in any way. I’d simply like to augment it. There’s a lot more to Native American literature than just these three well-known writers who happen to be the ones journalists always turn to when they want to mention Native writers. So when Sheila asked me to write a blog about Indigenous writers, I jumped at that chance. I will discuss three great writers, but that’s just a taste because of blog length limitations. I had originally wanted to discuss at least ten, but that blog would have become prohibitively long.
I talk about many other Native and other writers of color who might not be known to most readers in an ongoing series, Books of Interest by Writers of Color, on my blog, and there are a number of other lists out there on the internet. There are many more Native writers, many of them fairly new and emerging, being published today. Take advantage of that fact and read some. You’re in for a treat!
Linda Hogan is a Chickasaw writer of poetry, essays, and fiction and was until recently the writer-in-residence for the Chickasaw Nation. Hogan has won many major awards for her poetry— American Book Award, Lannan Foundation Fellowship,  Colorado Book Award, Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship ,and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, The Wordcraft Circle, and The Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association. Her novel, Mean Spirit, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the Oklahoma Book Award and the Mountains and Plains Book Award. Her novels, Solar Storms and Power, were finalists for the International Impact Award in Ireland.

I first came to Hogan through Mean Spirit, a powerful novel based on a true story, a murder scheme by white lawyers that targeted, killed, and stole the lands of entire Osage families when oil was found on the “worthless” land that had been allotted to them. I still think it’s one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Her poetry focuses on the relationship of human beings to the natural world, and her most recent books of poetry, Rounding the Human Corner and Indios, are good introductions to her body of work. Hogan is a thoughtful, lyrical, yet powerful writer and a must-read. Read more about Hogan here
Diane Glancy is a Cherokee writer of poetry, fiction, memoir, plays, and screenplays, and she’s won major awards in every one of these areas. In fact, I won’t list all Glancy’s awards because they’d take all my space to talk about her work, but she has won awards from the National Museum of the American Indian, Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Sundance, Lannan Foundation, and the American Book Award, among several pages of other awards. Glancy’s novels, Pushing the Bear, Stone Heart, and The Reason for Crows, all tell stories of Indian women, the Cherokee women on the Trail of Tears, Sacajawea, Kateri Tetakwitha.  Her many books of short fiction and essays look at various aspects of the Indigenous experience. Two I would recommend to start with are Firesticks and Trigger Dance, and Claiming Breath is my favorite of all her fine books of essays. For an introduction to her many books of poetry, Rooms: New and Selected Poems, is probably the best sampler.
Glancy has had many plays produced in New York, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and a number of other places. She has lately taken to making films of her screenplays, and a recent one, Dome of Heaven, is available to view for free on YouTube. Glancy is one of the great talents to arise from the period in the last half of the 20th century when it began to be possible for Native Americans to be published and a must-read for anyone interested in Native American literature. Read more about Glancy here.
Luci Tapahonso is a Diné (Navajo) poet who was just named the Navajo Nation’s first-ever Poet Laureate. Tapahonso has written five books of poetry, as well as a children’s book. Her awards include Storyteller of the Year by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers, Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association’s Region Book Award, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, New Mexico Eminent Scholar Award, and Southwestern Association of Indian Affairs Literature Fellowship. The two books I’d suggest for an introduction to Tapahonso’s work are Saánii Dahataal (the women are singing) and Blue Horses Rush In.
Tapahonso writes her work first in the Navajo language and then translates it into English, sometimes publishing bilingual editions. Her English translations follow the Navajo syntax, which is quite different from English and provides different perspectives on her subjects. In the original Navajo language, songs accompany the work that cannot be published, and when she gives readings she sings them. Her work contains a strong belief in the power of women and an embedded reliance and concern with family and story and the intertwining of the two. Read more about Tapahonso here.

These three gifted writers are just the first taste. Native literature also includes such stellar figures as Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), Allison Hedge Coke (Huron/Metis/Cherokee/Creek), Sherwin Bitsui  (Diné “Navajo”), Deborah Miranda (Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation), and Janet McAdams (Creek). And there are many more wonderful Indigenous writers to explore. So get started!

Linda Rodriguez’s second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books), is available for sale now and was selected by Las Comadres National Latino Book Club. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and is a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press), Rodriguez has received many awards and fellowships. 

Rodriguez is the president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. She was formerly director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Women’s Center. She spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook at LindaRodriguezWrites. She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at her Linda Rodriguez Writes blog.


  1. I will be away from the computer often today, so will be checking in to respond to comments as I can.

  2. Wow! Just . . . wow! This is a real wealth of resources and links to check out (and of course books to add to my "to read" list). I am, I'm afraid, not much of a poetry reader (my loss), but I found that Luci Tapahonso's works for me for some reason, so I'm glad to know about her. I also love the idea of poetry that plays between two languages, and particularly a writer who puts her own poetry into a second language. Thank you!

  3. I think you'll really enjoy all of these writers, Linda. They're all quite accessible, even in their poetry. And I, too, love that Luci's poetry has the cadence of her native language that she originally writes in.

    Thanks for stopping by!