American Indian fiction – A rich heritage and a good read

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Not so long ago the heritage of Native Americans was passed on by oral tradition only. At some point, Native people began telling their stories to white newcomers who translated the oral into written forms. Today American Indian writers combine the two parallel, though very different forms of expression. The convergence of the oral and written is a challenge that inspires the work of many American Indian fiction writers today.

A bit of research suggests a context for the specific genre of fiction written by Native Americana. It’s a longer story than we might think. In fact, the first novel published by a Native American was The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, published in 1854 by John Rollin Ridge. In 1899 Simon Pokagan chose the genre of the novel to educate his readers about traditional life in his Potawatomi community before the coming of the whites. (Queen of the Woods)

As Native Americans experienced painful dispossession writers feared the loss of their oral tradition. Writers who bridged the gap between Native tradition and assimilation included Zitkada Sa (Gertrude Bonnin) who wrote Old Indian Legends (1901) and American Indian Stories (1921) and Mourning Dove (Christal Quintasket) who retold traditional stories in Co-ge-wea: the Half Blood (1927) and Coyote Stories (1933).

Though these older titles may seem remote, titles more familiar to today’s reader emerge by the mid 20th Century. The well-known Black Elk Speaks represents the collaboration between John G Neihardt and Blackhawk to tell the stories of the Lakota culture. The award of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize to N. Scott Momaday for his House Made of Dawn marks a major step in the recognition of American Indian writers and their works.

Clearly the genre has expanded exponentially in recent times. As Minnesota literary history proves, the circle of writers of American Indian heritage who are writing fiction is rich as is the discovery and publication or re-publication of earlier texts. At this point it seems that Native American literature is so popular that the issue has become to identify what “qualifies”. Brian Swann, a student of American Indian literature, writes that “Native Americans are Native Americans if they say they are and if other native Americans say they are and accept them.” (Shades of the ongoing turmoil in the Massachusetts Senatorial campaign….)

Minnesota readers are a fortunate lot on many counts, including our awareness of the heritage of American Indian literature with which we are surrounded. Readers know well the names and work of American Indian writers of Minnesota – the names of scores come trippingly to the tongue – Louise Erdrich, Jim Northrup, Gerald Vizenor, David Treur, Diane Glancy…..the list goes on…and on.

The Minneapolis Central Library currently hosts a display of American Indian fiction, books culled from the rich collection of the library, enough to focus the attention on the specific genre and to expand visitors’ awareness of the Library’s holdings available for loan.

Ruthann Ovenshire who has prepared the display has generously shared her listing of American Indian Authors of Fiction at Minneapolis Central Library – names familiar and some new possibilities. The works of all of these authors are available for checkout from the Minneapolis Central Library or in many cases from other public libraries. If you have suggestions for books to add to the library collection, this is the time to speak up – or just send an email.

  • Alexie, Sherman
  • Allen, Paula Gunn
  • Baca, Jimmy Santiago
  • Barreiro, Jose
  • Bell, Betty Louise
  • Birchfield, D.L.
  • Blevins, Win
  • Boyden, Joseph
  • Brant, Beth
  • Bruchac, Joseph
  • Conley, Robert J.
  • Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth
  • Deloria, Ella Cara
  • Dorris, Michael
  • Earling, Debra Magpie
  • Egawa, Keith
  • Erdrich, Lise
  • Erdrich, Louise
  • Forbes, Jack D.
  • Gansworth, Eric  
  • Gish, Robert F.
  • Glancy, Diane
  • Henry, Gordon
  • Highway, Tomson
  • Hobson, Geary
  • Hogan, Linda
  • Hoklotubbe, Sara Sue
  • Johnson, Wayne
  • Johnston, Basil
  • Jones, Stephen Graham
  • Kenny, Maurice
  • Kenyon, Sherrilyn  
  • King, Thomas
  • LaDuke, Winona 
  • Louis, Adrian C.
  • Lucero, Evelina
  • Maracle, Lee  
  • Marshall, Joseph
  • McGaa, Ed
  • McNickle, D’Arcy
  • Medawar, Mardi Oakley
  • Momaday, N. Scott
  • Monture, Joel
  • Morris, Irvin
  • Ortiz, Simon J.
  • Owens, Louis
  • Penn, W.S.
  • Power. Susan
  • Querry, Ronald B.
  • Red Eagle, Philip 
  • Sanders, William 
  • Sarris, Greg
  • Seals, David
  • Sears, Vickie 
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon  
  • Smith, Martin Cruz 
  • Thom, Dark Rain
  • Treuer, David
  • Two-Rivers, E. Donald
  • Vizenor. Gerald
  • Wagamese, Richard
  • Welch, James
  • Womack, Craig
  • Young Bear, Ray H.