Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reading Lists: Native American Literature

Welcome to the first installment of a new feature here at The Blue Bookcase: Reading Lists. Every week either one of us or a guest blogger will post on one of his or her favorite topics and provide a list of books he or she is familiar with on that topic. At the end of each post we will invite you to throw out any suggestions of books, fiction or non-fiction, that you have read or know about on that topic and we will add them to the list on that post.

These lists are not comprehensive by any means, but may be useful in helping you find your next read. Enjoy!

This week, Ingrid is compiling a list on Native American Literature.

My husband at his graduation
in traditional clothing

Because my husband is Native American, I've always been interested in learning more about his culture and background. A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a class at my University on Native American Literature, and I've been fascinated with it ever since!
So, what exactly is "Native American Literature"? Is it anything written by a Native American? Or anything written about Native Americans? Both of these definitions are problematic. Lumping anything written by a Native American into "Native American Literature" can undermine these authors, many who deserve to be read and considered along with prominent authors and artists of all backgrounds. But on the other hand, anything written about Native Americans written by authors who have no Native background can undermine the unique point of view that only Native authors have. (If you're interested, I've also briefly discussed some of these issues on my review of Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge.)

That being said, for my purposes here I'm going to focus on books about Native culture by Native American authors (Black Elk Speaks being the only exception.) Many of these authors have written other great books on Native culture, but these are the ones I'm most familiar with.
My List:

Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
Abused and relinquished by her mother when very young, Angel has been moved from foster home to foster home. A rebellious, hurt, and literally scarred teenager, she sets out to search for her birth family, her mother, and herself. Finding her way to the remote region where she was born, reunites with Agnes, her great-grandmother; Dora-Rouge, her great-great-grandmother; and Bush, the woman who adopted Angel's mother and raised Angel when she was a young girl. But before Angel can settle into her new home, this recently rejoined family of women sets off by canoe on a journey to their ancestral homeland in the far North, where a hydroelectric dam project is under way. There Angel finds herself caught in a conflict that threatens two indigenous tribes, their ties to the land, and Angel's very essence as she tries to resolve her inner turmoil over who she is and where she belongs. Solar Storms is a story of love and family, and a parable of the Native American quest to reclaim a lost way of life. (Goodreads)

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt.
Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 book by John G. Neihardt, an American poet and writer, who relates the story and spirituality of Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux medicine man or shaman. It was based on conversations by Black Elk with the author and translated from Lakota into English by Black Elk's son, Ben Black Elk, who was present during the talks,. Neihardt transformed his notes to convey Black Elk's spiritual message in a powerful, lyrical English. (Wikipedia)

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo's quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremny that defeats the most virulent of afflictions -- despair. (Goodreads)

Tracks by Louise Erdrich
Set in North Dakota at a time in this century when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands, Tracks is a tale of passion and deep unrest. Over the course of ten crucial years, as tribal land and trust between people erode ceaselessly, men and women are pushed to the brink of their endurance—yet their pride and humor prohibit surrender. The reader will experience shock and pleasure in encountering a group of characters that are compelling and rich in their vigor, clarity, and indomitable vitality. (Goodreads)

The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday
The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969) is about the journey of Momaday's Kiowa ancestors from their ancient beginnings in the Montana area to their final war and surrender to the United States Cavalry at Fort Sill, and subsequent resettlement near Rainy Mountain, Oklahoma. (Wikipedia)

Fool's Crow by James Welch
The year is 1870, and Fool's Crow, so called after he killed the chief of the Crows during a raid, has a vision at the annual Sun Dance ceremony. The young warrior sees the end of the Indian way of life and the choice that must be made: resistance or humiliating accommodation. (Goodreads)

With his first foray into teen literature, acclaimed author Sherman Alexie packs a punch in this absorbing novel about a Native American boy searching for a brighter future. At once humorous and stirring, Alexie's novel follows Junior, a resident of the Spokane reservation who transfers out of the reservation's school -- and into a nearby rich, all-white farm school -- in order to nurture his desire to become a cartoonist. Junior encounters resistance there, a backlash at home, and numerous family problems -- all the while relaying his thoughts and feelings via amusing descriptions and drawings. (Goodreads)

Your Suggestions:
-Through Black Spruce and Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (Trish from Desktop Retreat, Kate from Kate's Bookcase)
-Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway,
-Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor (Kate from Kate's Bookcase)
-Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (softdrink from Fizzy Thoughts)
-Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun by Velma Wallis (Allie from A Literary Odyssey)
-We Are Mesquakie, We Are One by Hadley Irwin,
-Where the Broken Heart Still Beats by Carolyn Meyer (Broche from Wildly Read)
-Lakota Woman and Ohitika Woman by Mary Crow Dog (Kelly)

Do you consider yourself particularly well-read on a certain topic? Or maybe you find yourself drawn to books about specific people, places, or things? We would love to have you write a Reading List post for us! If you are interested please email us at