This holiday season as we reckon with what it means to live on a stolen land, let’s take the time to read Native authors in their own words. Here are highlights from our archives about contemporary Indigenous literature:
“Being Indian Is Not a Superpower” by Stephen Graham Jones
In his essay, acclaimed horror writer Stephen Graham Jones writes that his characters are Native because they’re Native, not because their Native-ness is going to let them save the world:
My characters had always been Blackfeet all along. There was never any reason to actually say it, but they always were. Just, I wasn’t hanging dreamcatchers and braids all over them, as that would be a lot like making them wriggle into loincloths so they could fit the limited expectations of . . . everyone, pretty much.
“A Native Woman Battles Neocolonialism and Werewolves in ‘Empire of Wild’” by Melissa Michal
Empire of Wild is a novel steeped in folklore about a Metίs woman who searches for her missing husband and stumbles upon missionary revivalists with sinister motives. Native writers Melissa Michal and Cherie Dimaline talk about the ongoing struggle for Indigenous representation:
I write first and foremost for community. There’s no way I can remove myself from my world view, who raised me, who I am, where I come from.
“Improvisational Parenting in Rural Oklahoma” by Savannah Johnston
Savannah Johnston’s short story immerses the readers in the worldview of a new father who wants to provide for his baby and his partner, but lacks the resources to do so:
Tommy wasn’t ready to go home. It had been six days since Donna and the baby were discharged from the hospital, and the house seemed to close up around them. For nearly a week, he woke with the sun and told Donna, doped up and perpetually naked, that he was going to look for a job. He didn’t tell her that there were no jobs, or that he spent the past four days with his uncles at The Office, a roadhouse off SH-54.
“Four Generations of Cherokee Women Navigate Love and Disaster” by Alexander Sammartino
In Crooked Hallelujah, Justine comes of age in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, surrounded by loving, but flawed matriarchs. Spanning the 1970s to the present day, the novel follows Justine as she leaves her community to raise her daughter in Texas amidst poverty, trauma, and fundamentalism. In the interview, Alexander Sammartino asks Kelli Jo Ford about mother-daughter relationships, displacement, and rejecting religion:
Coming from people who I’ve seen work hard their entire lives at the expense of their bodies and well-being, and then not being able to have a good life once you no longer have the body to sacrifice—seeing people breaking their backs and struggling, but still ending up in circumstances that are hard, despite a lifetime of hard work.
“We Need a Continent Full of Indigenous Stories” by Carrie V Mullins
A mixed-genre collection of prose and poetry, The Beadworkers takes place in the Native Northwest, centering on the lives of contemporary Native Americans grappling with kinship, yearning, and belonging. Beth Piatote converses with Carrie V Mullins about stringing together the future of Native American fiction:
I created a story in which absolutely nothing bad happens to the Native character. She, like her ancestors, moves freely from one place to another, “carrying her roots with her.” The reservation and the city are seamless, though different, sites of indigenous life. She has a stable, ordinary life and while she shows compassion for a poor white woman fleeing a domestic violence situation, it is still through Indigenous eyes that the reader sees the white woman. That, in itself, is important.
“Natalie Diaz Unravels What It Means to Be American and Native” by Arriel Vinson
Postcolonial Love Poem celebrates the bodies of Indigenous, Black, and Brown women, while fighting against erasure and reclaiming desire. Arriel Vinson talks to Natalie Diaz about the pain America has inflicted on Native people:
The American dream has always been in shambles, in pieces for my family, my community, and me. We never dreamed it. America never meant for us to dream it. And Mojave dreams are too strong for what is American. So they don’t match up.
“Indigenous Writers Deserve More Credit for Being Hilarious” by Julie Vick
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese contains bitingly funny autobiographical musings about Tiffany Midge’s life and identity as a Standing Rock Sioux woman, encompassing topics like offensive Halloween costumes to reclaiming Thanksgiving. In their interview, Julie Vick converses with the writer about why there should be thousands of great Native American novels:
Two things always present in classic Western literature are death and tragedy. And by that logic there should be thousands of great Native American novels.
“Our Family History, Packed in Mom’s Garage” by Kelly Jo Ford
An excerpt from her novel Crooked Hallelujah, Kelly Jo Ford’s short story “You’ll Be Honest, You’ll Be Brave” follows a Cherokee woman who returns home after a long absence to tend to her elderly mother:
Justine squinted into the photograph, trying to imagine her grandmother so young. She had been a maid in a big ranch house when she’d met Justine’s grandfather, a barn hand who Justine knew had been a terrible drinker. It wasn’t hard to imagine Granny’s strength. She was kind, but she was not soft. That’s where Lula got it, where Justine got it, and Reney, too, Justine figured, though she’d done her damnedest to keep Reney from ever having to access that kind of strength. Granny had been brought up in Indian orphanages and, later, Indian boarding schools. She’d never taught her grandchildren the language beyond basic greetings. She simply said that life was harder for those who spoke it.
“Poetry Can Give You What You’re Hungry For” by Arriel Vinson
Feed is a poetry collection that’s “an epistolary recipe for the main character, a poem of nourishment, and a jaunty walk through New York’s High Line park.” In their conversation, Arriel Vinson talks to Tommy Pico about what it means to live a full life:
Some things that were adequate nutrients in the past don’t work anymore. Some things you loved, you can’t really digest anymore. Today, especially, with the endless feed of the internet? Sometimes you need to restrict some streams of intake. Sometimes you need to log off.
“Trauma Has Forced Me to Become a Powerful Witch” by Deirdre Coyle
Elissa Washuta’s essay collection “White Magic” reckons with the colonization of spirituality and what it means to be a Native witch. In the interview, Deirdre Coyle asks the author about confronting personal pain through tarot, pop culture, and magic:
Even though I don’t have the same methods as witches, the aims are ultimately the same as they ever were, and that’s the kind of witch I am.