Poet and novelist Diane Glancy says her work gives a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves: Sacajawea, the Cherokee who walked the Trail of Tears in 1831, the Ghost Dancers who held out hope that a messiah would help them get back what they had lost. Her role as a writer, she said, is “to portray the human experience.”
The human voices in Glancy’s poems, essays, novels, plays and now films are usually Native American or people like herself, those who come from a mixed European and Indian ancestry.
The Macalester College professor retired last year, after 18 years teaching writing and Native American literature. She recently moved to Kansas City, her hometown, to be near her daughter and grandchildren.
Born in 1941, Glancy’s father was Cherokee; her mother was of English/German descent. Though she grew up around her mother’s “blonde, blue-eyed family,” she said she identified more with her Cherokee heritage. “My father, brother and I were the only ones who were dark,” she said. “I felt a definite otherness around them. In personality also, I was more like my father’s family.”
After what she describes as a “normal” childhood (“I went to school. I came home from school. I rode my bike.”), Glancy went to the University of Missouri with plans to study journalism. There, she took a writing workshop that introduced her to poetry, and that class redirected her interests. “I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “I felt at home when I wrote poetry.”
Glancy received her bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1964 and moved to Tulsa, Okla., where her then-husband took a job. She spent 20 years there, raising a son and daughter, earning a master’s degree in English, spending seven years as an artist-in-residence with the State Arts Council of Oklahoma and researching her Cherokee heritage. That ancestry “was the voice I heard when I wrote,” she said.
Glancy’s time spent in the Oklahoma schools also helped fuel some of her current work, which includes a feature-length film that takes place in the tiny town of Vici.
In 1987, Glancy attended the Iowa Writers Workshop and in 1988 received her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. In the fall of 1988, she came to Macalester as a visiting lecturer. She will return to Macalester this May to receive an honorary Master of Arts degree from the college.
Glancy has published more than 30 books of poetry, short stories, and essays, as well as a number of plays and two short films. You can watch Ride Between the Worlds (nine minutes) and On the Shore of Their Country (three minutes) on her website.
DP: You write about people from the distant past as well as your own past. Are there other influences in your writing?
I think the land carries voices. It carries memories. I don’t think I could write if I didn’t travel. That’s where I pick up the voices.
DP: What are you working on now, and whose voice is in it?
The Dome of Heaven is the title of the film. It’s written from my novel Flutie. It is shot in Oklahoma. It’s from my early experiences with residencies for the Oklahoma arts council. It’s feature length. I am producing it. I want to enter it in the Tallgrass Festival in Kansas. The deadline is July 8 of this year.
DP: Who is Flutie?
Flutie is a nickname. Her real name is Florence. I don’t know how her family started calling her that. She’s the protagonist.
The novel, Flutie, is a third-person narrative of a girl who lives in Oklahoma and wants to go to college. She is from a dysfunctional family and has to struggle. In a way, her voice is mine, but my family was stable. She represents many students I had when I worked for the State Arts Council of Oklahoma as artist-in-residence visiting different schools across the state.
DP: You say that in a way her voice is yours. How?
[Like Flutie,] I also am mixed blood. I had a shyness in school. It took me a long time to find my way.
DP: Are any of your works set in Minnesota?
The Man Who Heard the Land, a novel published by the Minnesota Historical Society with a beautiful cover of trees in the winter fog.
The main character is a nameless Indian man who was adopted as a baby by a white minister and his wife. He later becomes an adjunct faculty at the U of M-Morris. It’s about his disenfranchisement from himself and the world around him. The Red River flood also is a part of it.
DP: Are you religious?
Yes, I am a Christian. I belonged to Bethel Christian Fellowship when I lived in St. Paul. I think the theme of Christianity is in a lot of my work. Maybe most of my work.
DP: Can you give some examples?
The Cold-and-Hunger Dance is a series of essays that is mostly about Christianity and native issues. In Pushing the Bear, my novel of the 1838-39 Cherokee Trail of Tears, some of the voices such as Reverend Bushyhead, a Cherokee, are Christian.
DP: Other than your movie, any works in progress?
Stories of the Driven World is poetry. The Dream of a Broken Field is essays.
The Catch, another book and play on which I’ve been working is about the 1875-78 Fort Marion prisoners who were taken from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and transferred to Florida for imprisonment. There they became literature. It’s about the beginning of native education. I received an Expressive Arts grant from the National Museum of the American Indian to write a play on the history of native education. It also became a book, as did Stone Heart, my story of Sacajawea.