Celebrate Indigenous Literature With These 13 New Books by Native Writers

Literature


The invented Western history of Thanksgiving, the one often perpetuated as early as elementary school and idealized in broader American culture, is a harmful myth. Here at Electric Lit, we want to use this day to draw attention to the many stories and experiences of Indigenous people and remember the true history and legacy of settler colonialism. One bright spot in another tumultuous year full of regressive politics and heartache is the great abundance of books by Indigenous writers published in 2022. Across all genres, Indigenous writers wrote stunning work that is vast and distinctive in its style and subject matter. Several of these books, which are included in the list below, are award-nominated and posed to leave a lasting mark on contemporary literature.

From intimate memoirs and poetry collections to gripping thrillers and sprawling coming-of-age novels, this roundup includes thirteen new books (nine of which are debuts!) by Indigenous writers across North America that you won’t want to miss. 

Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah 

Calling for a Blanket Dance is a remarkable coming-of-age debut that follows Ever Geimausaddle from infancy to adulthood. Ever, who is half Mexican, half Native American, grows up in a world riddled with violence and struggle. The novel begins with Ever, only a few months old, witnessing his father injured at the hands of corrupt police. After this life-altering incident, his mother struggles to keep her job while caring for her husband, and Ever faces obstacle after obstacle in a world that continually threatens his safety. As the novel unfolds, Ever’s Cherokee grandmother urges the family to move across the state of Oklahoma to be closer to her, and Ever and his family continue to search for and find strength in their familial identity and the supportive communities that celebrate their heritage. With beautiful prose and a deeply moving cast of characters, Calling for a Blanket Dance introduces Oscar Hokeah as an important and exciting new voice in literary fiction.

Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years by Joy Harjo

This beautifully curated poetry collection takes readers on a journey from Joy Harjo’s early work to reflections on our current moment. A three-term U.S. Poet Laureate, Harjo has become a cherished figure in American poetry, celebrated for her poems that are at once musical, political, intimate, and interwoven with ancestral stories and tribal history. With an introduction by Sandra Cisneros, this collection offers fifty gems by Harjo that feel both stunningly precise yet all-encompassing in their predominant themes: love, death, resistance. The poems are accompanied by notes that offer unique insight into Harjo’s process and inspiration, from sunrises and jazz to Navajo horse songs. Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light is a true gift, and, as Cisneros says in the foreword, the world is better for Harjo’s artistic evolution: “Once she was the quiet girl. Now she sings for the nation.” 

Becoming Story: A Journey Among Seasons, Places, Trees, and Ancestors by Greg Sarris 

In this powerful memoir-in-essays, Greg Sarris explores questions about home, connection, and belonging in vivid prose that is both humorous and profound. Sarris, who is currently serving in his fifteenth term as Chairman of the Federated Indians of Granton Rancheria, grew up the adopted son of a white couple in California and did not fully learn about his indigenous heritage until his twenties. Becoming Story gracefully moves between the past and the present to chart Sarris’ journey toward learning about himself, his people, and his homeland. Sarris reflects on the forces, both historical and personal, that shaped his early life and his later work as a tribal leader, uncovering the delicate interconnections between personal story, community stories, and place. 

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty 

Set in the Penobscot Indian Nation reservation in Maine, Morgan Talty’s debut short story collection Night of the Living Rez is composed of twelve incredibly crafted stories that explore what it means to be Native in modern America. The stories are linked through the character of David, a Penobscot boy living on the reservation, and his brazen and loving voice that illuminates life and death in this changing community. Talty’s writing is heartbreaking and humorous, portraying the particularities of boyhood, intergenerational trauma, and grief with an eye that feels both fresh and deeply truthful. The braided stories create a vibrant portrait of this Penobscot community, exploring everything from infant loss to porcupine hunts, runaway daughters to weed runs. Night of the Living Rez teems with compassion and insight, offering a reading experience that will devastate and haunt its readers in the best way possible. 

Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson 

At the center of this sprawling, multiple-point-of-view debut novel is Ruby, a Métis woman in her thirties who is, more than anything, searching for herself. Adopted by a white couple who provided little affection or knowledge about her true history, Ruby is plagued by questions about her identity and sense of purpose, which has left her floundering. As the novel unfolds and Ruby’s story becomes ever more complex, the narrative dips into the perspectives of those in Ruby’s orbit: her birth parents and adoptive parents, past lovers, social workers, her children. The effect of this collection of perspectives is an intimate and nuanced illumination of Ruby as a woman surviving in the face of painful family history, colonialism, and patriarchy. Tender, funny, and brimming with the desire to love and be loved, Probably Ruby is a moving narrative about Indigenous identity and belonging. 

A Calm and Normal Heart: Stories by Chelsea T. Hicks 

A Calm and Normal Heart is a sharp and often-surprising debut story collection that illuminates the lives and desires of contemporary Native women. From Oklahoma to California, the twelve stories in this collection reckon with questions of belonging and home, asking what these promises hold, especially when one is of an identity that is constantly pigeonholed or overlooked. In one story, “THNXX by Alcatraz”, the young protagonist Mary finds herself at a Thanksgiving dinner and has to explain the true history of the holiday to her white host. Later, she states, “What I hate is that I feel like I live in a different country that’s here, inside this one, but no one believes my country exists.” The characters in A Calm and Normal Heart seek variations of home while traversing an unreliable and often inhospitable terrain, also dealing with histories of abuse and the effects of patriarchy. Riveting and full of imagination, Hicks is a writer whose smart wit and deeply tender characters pull the reader in from the first page. 

Sinister Graves by Marcie R. Rendon 

In the town of Ada, the body of an unidentified Native woman is discovered after a snowmelt sends floodwaters into the town, washing the body up in its pull. The only evidence the medical examiner finds is tucked inside the woman’s bra: a torn piece of paper on which a hymnal is written in English and Ojibwe. This is the incident that begins Sinister Graves, a propulsive mystery set in 1970s Minnesota that follows 19-year-old Cash Blackbear as she attempts to discover the truth behind the disappearances of Native women and their newborns. Rendon’s mystery novel simultaneously grips and informs, depicting modern Native American issues and drawing attention to the violence committed against one of America’s most vulnerable populations. Powerful and haunting, Sinister Graves is a riveting character-driven mystery with the fierce and nuanced Cash Blackbear at its helm. 

In the Hands of the River by Lucien Darjeun Meadows 

In the Hands of the River is a beautiful debut poetry collection that explores and affirms the connection between humans and the enivronment. Meadows gracefully weaves threads of personal narrative, ancestral history, and the natural world into stunning language that speaks to the experience of growing up a queer boy of both Cherokee and European heritage in Appalachia. The collection is filled with memorable imagery that allows readers to see the natural world anew, Appalachia a place where “mountains rub their shoulders blue.” With lush sounds and incredible emotional precision, these poems are both an ode and an elegy to the place in which Meadows spent his formative years.

White Horse by Erika T. Wurth 

Erika T. Wurth’s debut novel is filled with haunting. Set in Denver, Colorado and following 35-year-old Kari James who loves ripped jeans and Stephen King, this literary horror novel is dark, edgy, and deeply moving. When Kari’s cousin finds an old family bracelet that once belonged to Kari’s mother, the bracelet inadvertently calls upon her mother’s ghost, and Kari is plagued by visceral visions and dreams of her mother who went missing. Kari sets off on a mission to uncover what truly happened to her mother all those years ago. Part murder mystery, part ghost story, White Horse conjures a contemporary horror atmosphere through its love of dive bars, cigarettes, metalheads, and family secrets. Fans of immersive and thought-provoking horror will not want to miss this electric debut from Wurth. 

Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future by Patty Krawec 

This important and informative nonfiction debut details Indigenous American history, from the first humans to populate the Americas to the present. Krawec unpacks the harm and legacy of settler colonialism, interweaving personal narrative, history, scientific analysis, and myth to uncover and explore themes of creation, replacement, and disappearance. Throughout the book, Krawec gives voice to the pain and injustice experienced by Indigenous people but also asks readers, descendants of both Indigenous and European peoples, to imagine a better future through collective action. What would it look like to remember that we are all related? How might we become better relatives to the environment and each other? At its heart, Becoming Kin is a powerful invitation to remake the world into a place that is more equitable and hospitable for both its people and its natural environment.

Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

Forthcoming in January 2023, this gripping horror debut follows Mackenzie, a millennial Cree woman whose haunting nightmares about crows lead her on a journey to discover the truth about the violence committed in the place she calls home. Mackenzie’s sister Sabrina is dead, but two years later, night after night, Mackenzie’s bad dreams return her to a time when Sabrina was still alive: a weekend at the family’s lakefront campsite. As the novel unfolds, Mackenzie is drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of what really happened at the lake, and her visceral dreams begin to encroach upon reality, blurring the line between sleep and wakefulness. Bad Cree is a satisfying slow burn that explores loss, generational trauma, and violence through a narrative that is chilling yet, at its center, burning with a defiant resilience.

Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk by Sasha LaPointe

Set in the Pacific Northwest, this debut memoir by LaPointe is poetic and punk-infused, exploring questions about love, art, and home. At the start of the memoir, LaPointe offers a clear thematic trajectory for the narrative, writing, “What happens in the longhouse is not what this story is about, but this is a story about healing.” Healing is certainly a predominant thread throughout the memoir as LaPointe deftly moves between multiple timelines, offering stories about family history and personal experience and the ways they connect in the present. The memoir deals with large and painful topics such as colonialism, generational trauma, and loss, but also brings the nuances and particularities of LaPoint’s voice to the page, paying homage to the vibrant Washington music scene and her love for performance. Red Paint is a beautiful story about lineage, love, and what it means to reclaim one’s life.

Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse 

Set in 1883 in the fictional mining town of Goetia, this dark fantasy novel follows the smart and passionate Celeste as she assumes the role of advocatus diaboli to defend her sister Muriel against murder charges. Muriel is accused of killing a member of the Order of the Archangels, the rulers of Goetia. In the world of Tread of Angels, society is split into two distinct classes, the Elect and the Fallen, with the Fallen largely discriminated against because they are descendants of the demons who chose Lucifer over God. Celeste and Muriel are both half Elect, half Fallen, but Celeste grew up with her father passing as Elect while Muriel lived in the slums with her mother as a Fallen. These complex social dynamics along with Roanhorse’s rich worldbuilding create an epic fantasy story filled with suspense, manipulation, and poignant religious imagery that serves as a searing allegory for our own world.

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