I Can't Read Louise Erdrich

I listened to the interview between Sterlin Harjo and Louise Erdrich yesterday and one exchange, out of many in such a good interview, stood out to me.

Near the end of the podcast, Harjo mentions to Erdrich that he often has trouble reading her books because they always spur creativity in him and he has to go write his own stories.

The same happens to me.

I’ve been reading Erdrich’s latest, LaRose, but I haven’t been paying too much attention to the overall story. Instead, I’ve involuntarily gained inspiration to work on my own novel, one I’m writing as a creative thesis for Dartmouth. I’ve lately felt stuck with my story, like the second half is too confused or rambling and its too hard to find my way through to the story. As a result, I’ve procrastinated hard.

Yet, I cannot read Erdrich's books for more than a few minutes before the scenes, the characters, and the emotions that Erdrich writes inspire and draw me to my own work in such a powerful way that overcomes my insecurity and overthrows every overwhelming feeling of not knowing what to write.

Not only can Erdrich create and write a great story, but she can inspire others as well. And that’s what makes her a such a renowned and distinguished writer.

So I can't read Louise Erdrich because I'm always breaking away to create. It's going to take me a long time to get through LaRose but at least something new will be born out of it.

On Joseph Boyden

My thoughts on Joseph Boyden, for whatever it may be worth.

Canadian writer Joseph Boyden in September 2010. Photo Cred: Camille Gévaudan

Canadian writer Joseph Boyden in September 2010. Photo Cred: Camille Gévaudan

I first heard about Boyden during my interview with Frank C. Busch about Frank’s novel, Grey Eyes. Boyden had blurbed Frank’s book and Frank said Boyden was “a hero of [his]” and recommended Boyden’s The Orenda. My introduction to Boyden was from a Native author I respect and appreciate.

Recently, Boyden has faced great scrutiny over whether or not he is truly indigenous; whether his claims to a tribal community bear any weight. This controversy isn’t new since there have been many questioning Boyden’s claims for years, but this time the critique of Boyden gained steam and began a news cycle that saw many rise up to defend and to critique Boyden’s claims to an indigenous history.

Boyden himself responded to his critics with a tweet that did little to quell the storm.

Over the short while that I’ve been attempting to write about indigenous literature and culture, I’ve included Boyden in some posts and referred to him as an indigenous author even though I knew of the rumblings that said he wasn’t who he claimed to be. My only litmus test of who to include as a native author is who is and who isn’t accepted within native literature. That is, our indigenous literary community still accepted him as one of us, however tentatively, until the recent news made Boyden a leper in the community.

There has been plenty of time for Boyden to give a more hearty response about his identity, but he hasn’t. Busch is sticking with Boyden and arguing for his inclusion as indigenous. Busch has stated the attack on Boyden has been a “witch hunt,” of which I can see aspects manifesting in some tweets or comments completely deriding Boyden and his career.

There have, however, been critics of Boyden who are making room for him to return possibly as an indigenous author but most likely as an ally who is willing to learn. Both Aaron Paquette and Ryan McMahon have made statements that are inclusive towards Boyden while still acknowledging the harm his actions have wrought.

I’ll never join in destroying a person. Many Boyden detractors have turned petty towards him and his defenders, attacking Busch and others with personal insults rather than sticking to facts about Boyden. The same can be said from the pro-Boyden crowd. This isn’t the way we should be.

Overall, these are appropriate questions being asked. The critiques of Boyden have been important and I hope the discussion continues with him involved.

News of Boyden in the U.S. is scant, even with the latest uproar. We don’t hear much of him and he isn’t as celebrated here as he is in Canada. As such, I feel somewhat like an outsider looking in for insight because I don’t have much knowledge of him or his work. I’ve waited to see how this would play out; how Boyden would respond. He hasn’t yet responded with much, and I’m unsure of even how he should respond. For now and from what I’ve seen, I am choosing to not include Boyden as an indigenous author until better discussions are had and we can settle some of his contradictions.

Sherman Alexie Leaves Twitter Citing 'Negatives Increasingly Outweigh its Positives'

The new year brings a host of new resolutions and habits for many people. Celebrated indigenous author, Sherman Alexie, chose to quit Twitter. 

In a final tweet early New Year's morning, Alexie wrote "Hey, folks, I'm leaving Twitter because its negatives increasingly outweigh its positives. Thank you for the follows." 

Alexie deleted his profile shortly after his final tweet. Visiting Alexie's Twitter profile gives Twitter's stock "sorry that page doesn't exist" 404 page. Sherman Alexie still has a Facebook profile, but he's not as personal there as he was on Twitter. Most of his tweets were biting satire while his Facebook posts seem to be managed by a publicist. 

Here's hoping Alexie finds a different outlet for engagement.

Anton Treuer's “Warrior Nation” Awarded Denver Library's Caroline Bancroft Prize

Ojibwe historian and writer, Anton Treuer, recently won the Caroline Bancroft Prize in association with The Denver Public Library's Western History and Genealogy Department for his book Warrior Nation. In his book, Treuer interviewed several elders from the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota gathering stories and historical insight into the Red Lake Nation's "democratic governance system" which Treuer maintains is the first of its kind on Turtle Island. 

More about Warrior Nation:

The Red Lake Nation has a unique and deeply important history. Unlike every other reservation in Minnesota, Red Lake holds its land in common and, consequently, the tribe retains its entire reservation land base. The people of Red Lake developed the first modern indigenous democratic governance system in the United States, decades before any other tribe, but they also maintained their system of hereditary chiefs. The tribe never surrendered to state jurisdiction over crimes committed on its reservation. The reservation is also home to the highest number of Ojibwe-speaking people in the state.Warrior Nation covers four centuries of the Red Lake Nation s forceful and assertive tenure on its land. Ojibwe historian and linguist Anton Treuer conducted oral histories with elders across the Red Lake reservation, learning the stories carried by the people. And the Red Lake band has, for the first time, made available its archival collections, including the personal papers of Peter Graves, the brilliant political strategist and tribal leader of the first half of the twentieth century, which tell a startling story about the negotiations over reservation boundaries. This fascinating history offers not only a chronicle of the Red Lake Nation but also a compelling perspective on a difficult piece of U.S. history. 

The Caroline Bancroft Prize rewards books of Colorado or Western American history and "serves to recognize books that make a significant contribution to historical knowledge, present thorough and original research, bring a new perspective to some well-known question, and are of a high literary quality."

Varmints and Victims: Predator Control in the American West by Dr. Frank Van Nuys and Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection by Edward D. Melillo were honorary mentions for the prize. 

Listen to Gregory Scofield Talk About His Inspiration for Witness, I Am

Poet Gregory Scofield spoke with Selagh Rogers on CBC Radio about his latest book of poetry, Witness, I Am, and his poem "Muskrat Woman" found in Witness.

Scofield on why he wrote Witness, I Am and why he shares missing and murdered indigenous women on Twitter every day:

A lot of the work that I've been doing around missing and murdered Indigenous women really stems from a personal experience with losing my auntie in 1998 to very mysterious circumstances. Her death was a homicide, and it was a homicide that was really never brought to justice. I decided, back then, that I was going to use my voice, my public profile, to do advocacy work around missing and murdered Indigenous women.

I started the name-a-day tweets about three years ago now — for me, the tweets are not only serving as a public announcement to hopefully find our missing women, but really to create public awareness. It really is that visual of their faces — when I have an opportunity to speak in public, it's become important for me to allow people to see the face of this experience. This isn't just an experience they're seeing on the news, this is an actual physical connection that they're making.

Listen to the 17-minute interview and watch a lyric video of Scofield reading his poem, "She is spitting a mouthful of stars" at CBC.

Sacred Breath: Writing & Storytelling at the University of Washington

The Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle is hosting its second quarterly series, Sacred Breath: Writing and Storytelling at its wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ - Intellectual House.

Storytelling offers a spiritual connection, a sharing of sacred breath. Literature, similarly, preserves human experience and ideals. Both forms are durable and transmit power that teaches us how to live. Both storytelling and reading aloud can impact audiences through the power of presence, allowing for the experience of the transfer of sacred breath as audiences are immersed in the experience of being inside stories and works of literature.

The event is free to the public and features Raven Heavy Runner, Ernestine Hayes, and Elissa Washuta as speakers. Register here for the event which happens on February 25, 2017.

Sherman Alexie's 'Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' To Be Made Into Film

Sherman Alexie will adapt the screenplay for the film version of his novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Hollywood Reporter revealed. Hugh Jackman is rumored to be interested in playing a supporting role (a teacher?) and in serving the film. The producers of A Fault in Our Stars and Deadpool are contributing to the project as well. It's been about 10 years since Alexie's novel was released, but it still remains a popular work in schools and elsewhere. That popularity has now been capitalized into a burgeoning movie. 

If you've never read the book, you can find a copy at Powell's or find a local bookseller through IndieBound.

"In order to learn the language, the land must survive."

A beautiful piece by Erica Violet Lee on indigenous language, land, and decolonization at Red Rising Magazine:

Late in the Saskatchewan summer, we are out in the bush. I am walking with two people speaking to each other in nēhiyawēwin. It is beautiful to witness this small slice of the way things were before our languages were stripped from so many of us. I can’t understand all the words they are saying, but I can tell they are falling in love with every word they speak.

We are out here to protect this land from the clearcutting of forests, and although the land appears pristine, the unnatural thunder of approaching logging machinery has grown loud enough to spook the animals around us. But in the language, they create a safe world in the midst of destruction. I listen to their mouths sit longer with certain syllables, and watch the sideways glances that make them burst into belly laughter. There is magic in their mistakes, as is only created by the willingness of clumsy tongues coming together to relearn ancient languages. In order to have a real conversation in nēhiyawēwin, reciprocity is necessary. Ehe. I could listen to them speaking together all day, but when they grasp hands to step across a small creek, my cheeks get hot and I realize I must be intruding. I busy myself by wandering off trail to pick chokecherries that are dark red, ripe, and so heavy that they fall off the branch with the gentlest coaxing from my hand.

After a while, I meet up with the couple again. One of them says to me, “You will come back here one day and you will be able to speak the language to your ancestors.” I would like to believe them, but I know that in order to become fluent, I will have to find my own ways to immerse myself deeper in the language and the land. In order to learn the language, the land must survive.

Erika T. Wurth's New Book of Poetry, A Thousand Horses Out to Sea, Releasing January 2017

The beginning of the new year will bring a new book of poetry by indigenous author Erika T. Wurth

A Thousand Horses Out to Sea, Wurth's new book of poetry, "is a dark, feminine collection of poetry. There is song here, stomp dance and corrido and deep, sad lyricism. The poems range from prose to semi-narrative, but each one shows us a unique portrait of human life. Set mainly in desert Southwest, inside the glittering Indian city of Albuquerque, the lives in these poems are full of cruelty, beauty, and pain. This book [...] reveals the strange, intimate space that sex creates, and illuminates what happens when you try to reach towards something else, and transcend into beauty amidst the bruised flower of love."

A Thousand Horses Out to Sea is being released January 15, 2017, by Mongrel Empire Press. The title will be available to pre-order soon, according to Wurth. Keep an eye on the publisher page for the pre-order, or set up a notification through Amazon to remind you of when the book is up for sale.