Indigenous Literary Studies
The literatures of Indigenous North America have a long and rich history, from the Mayan and Aztecan codices, Dakota winter counts, Lenape wampum belts, Anishinaabe birchbark scrolls, Cherokee medical formulae books, songs, treaties, memorial petitions, and letters, to autobiographies, histories, poems, stories, novels, comic books, plays, and other textual and performance materials. This is a rigorous, provocative, and exciting field of study, one that's as engaged with the social, historical, and intellectual contexts of the literature as well as its aesthetics and issues of artistry and creative expression. It's a field that firmly connects the aesthetic with the experiential; for many of us, work in Indigenous literary studies is part of a relationship of reciprocity that reflects what Appalachian/Cherokee poet Marilou Awiakta calls the principle of "art for life's sake." Some of the guiding questions in the field include:
- What is Indigenous literary expression, and how do the worldviews and intellectual traditions of diverse Indigenous communities distinguish this body of work from those of other cultures and traditions? What distinguishes different Indigenous nations' literary histories from one another, and what connects them?
- What are the literary aesthetics and artistic qualities of Indigenous writing, textual expression, and encoding practices, and how do aesthetic considerations inform both process and product?
- How do Indigenous writers and artists conceive of themselves and their world, and how are those understandings represented in their literary texts?
- How have Indigenous literatures responded to the pressures of Eurowestern colonization? How have different communities responded to different colonialist systems and experiences?
- What is the relationship between oral and written traditions, and what roles do they play in the lives of Indigenous peoples today?
- What is the place of sovereignty, nationhood, self-determination, and decolonization within the body of Indigenous literature and criticism?
- What are the ethical and political challenges of doing research in Indigenous Studies, especially at universities that are deeply rooted in Eurowestern cultural, economic, and political values?
Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History (University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
This book examines many of the ways that Cherokees have understood and expressed identity and experience through writing in English. Drawing from this rich and ever-expanding canon, I examine three primary features of historical and contemporary Cherokee life--nationhood, removal, and regeneration--through literary expressions of cultural continuity. Our literature is the textual testament to our endurance; just as our oral traditions reflect the living realities and concerns of those who share them, so too do our literary traditions. This study is a focused exploration of a few key historical moments, texts, writers, and issues that illustrate the transformative and dynamic discourses of what it is to be Cherokee in various times and places. In short, it asks a simple question: how does a historically rooted and culturally informed reading of the Cherokee literary tradition help us to better understand Cherokee social history, and vice versa?
Some of the political leaders and writers discussed in this study include Nanye'hi/Nancy Ward, Tsiyu Gansini/Dragging Canoe, Chief John Ross, John Ridge and the Treaty Party, Lynn Riggs, John Milton Oskison, Will Rogers, Emmet Starr, Marilou Awiakta, Thomas King, Wilma Mankiller, Geary Hobson, Diane Glancy, and Robert Conley. Cherokee history, politics, and cultural values form the interpretive lens for analyzing a wide range of materials created by Cherokees, from removal accounts in our oral traditions to newspaper articles, correspondence, treaties, laws and legal texts, historical monographs, plays, poems, and novels. This book is written for a wide audience, from Cherokee community members to academics to anyone interested in Native issues and literary studies.
Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History is now available from the University of Minnesota Press, in both paperback and clothbound versions. Go to the Scholarship Press Room for reviews and interviews, and to the Bookstore to find out how to purchase the book. All royalties go to the not-for-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization, the Cherokee Nation Foundation, and its mission of providing access to higher education and the revitalization of the Cherokee language. For more information on how you can assist the Foundation in its important work, click HERE to go to the official site.
Click HERE to read some reviews and an interview with Katy Young.
Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective (collective editorship)
This collectively authored volume celebrates a group of Native critics performing community in a lively, rigorous, sometimes contentious dialogue that challenges the aesthetics of individual literary representation.
Janice Acoose infuses a Cree reading of Canadian Cree literature with a creative turn to Cree language; Lisa Brooks looks at eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Native writers and discovers little-known networks among them; Tol Foster argues for a regional approach to Native studies that can include unlikely subjects such as Will Rogers; LeAnne Howe creates a fictional character, Embarrassed Grief, whose problematic authenticity opens up literary debates; Daniel Heath Justice takes on two prominent critics who see mixed-blood identities differently than he does in relation to kinship; Phillip Carroll Morgan uncovers written Choctaw literary criticism from the 1830s on the subject of oral performance; Kimberly Roppolo advocates an intertribal rhetoric that can form a linguistic foundation for criticism. Cheryl Suzack situates feminist theories within Native culture with an eye to applying them to subjugated groups across Indian Country; Christopher B. Teuton organizes Native literary criticism into three modes based on community awareness; Sean Teuton opens up new sites for literary performance inside prisons with Native inmates; Robert Warrior wants literary analysis to consider the challenges of eroticism; Craig S. Womack introduces the book by historicizing book-length Native-authored criticism published between 1986 and 1997, and he concludes the volume with an essay on theorizing experience.
Reasoning Together proposes nothing less than a paradigm shift in American Indian literary criticism, closing the gap between theory and activism by situating Native literature in real-life experiences and tribal histories. It is an accessible collection that will suit a wide range of courses—and will educate and energize anyone engaged in criticism of Native literature.
Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (co-edited with Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti)
Two-Spirit people, identified by many different tribally specific names and standings within their communities, have been living, loving, and creating art since time immemorial. It wasn't until the 1970s, however, that contemporary queer Native literature gained any public notice. Even now, only a handful of books address it specifically, most notably the 1988 collection Living the Spirt: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Since that book's publication twenty-three years ago, there has not been another collection published that focuses explicitly on the writing and art of Indigenous Two-Spirit and Queer people.
This landmark collection strives to reflect the complexity of identities within Native Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (GLBTQ2) communities. Gathering together the work of established writers and talented new voices, this anthology spans genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essay) and themes (memory, history, sexuality, indigeneity, friendship, family, love, and loss) and represents a watershed moment in Native American and Indigenous literatures, Queer studies, and the intersections between the two.
Collaboratively, the pieces in Sovereign Erotics demonstrate not only the radical diversity among the voices of today's Indigenous GLBTQ2 writers but also the beauty, strength, and resilience of Indigenous GLBTQ2 people in the twenty-first century.
Contributors: Indira Allegra, Louise Esme Cruz, Paula Gunn Allen, Qwo-Li Driskill, Laura Furlan, Janice Gould, Carrie House, Daniel Heath Justice, Maurice Kenny, Michael Koby, M. Carmen Lane, Jaynie Lara, Chip Livingston, Luna Maia, Janet McAdams, Deborah Miranda, Daniel David Moses, D. M. O'Brien, Malea Powell, Cheryl Savageau, Kim Shuck, Sarah Tsigeyu Sharp, James Thomas Stevens, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, William Raymond Taylor, Joel Waters, and Craig Womack
The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature is the most comprehensive and expansive critical handbook of Indigenous American literatures published to date. It is the first to fully take into account the last fifteen years of recovery and scholarship, and the first to most significantly address the diverse range of texts, secondary archives, writing traditions, literary histories, geographic and political contexts, and critical discourses in the field.
The Handbook's most innovative feature is, however, its expansive definition of Indigenous American. The colonial experience of the Indigenous peoples of the contiguous United States is only a small part of a long shared history of contact and exchange among the many Indigenous peoples of the Americas. With chapters on Indigenous writing traditions from the Caribbean, Central America, Hawai'i, Guam, Alaska, and Canada, the book legible a broad network of Indigenous writers that produce Indigenous American literature. The Handbook takes seriously the transnational turn in American studies but does so by specifically foregrounding Indigenous American transnational histories and literary productions. Similarly, by focusing content on plural literatures—not simply a generalizing category of a singular literature—we highlight this commitment to the varied literary traditions of the Indigenous peoples in this hemisphere.
Both rigorously scholarly and intellectually provocative, and committed to literary inclusivity as a guiding structural and theoretical principle, The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature provides more than historical and critical contexts: in scope, methodology, and content, this collection will help shape the interpretive contours of the field for years to come. Including work by emerging scholars, established critics, and some of today's most compelling Indigenous writer-scholars, the Handbook is an essential resource for scholars as well as an engaging collection for general readers interested in the depth, range, and diversity of Indigenous American literary expression.
Contributors: Chadwick Allen, Joseph Bauerkemper, Kristina Fagan Bidwell, Lisa Brooks, Jodi A. Byrd, Warren Cariou, Adam W. Coon, James H. Cox, Denise K. Cummings, Renate Eigenbrod, Emilio del Valle Escalante, Margery Fee, Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard, Sarah Henzi, ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui, LeAnne Howe, Shari M. Huhndorf, Shona N. Jackson, Daniel Heath Justice, Maureen Konkle, Crystal M. Kurzen, Keavy Martin, Sophie Mayer, Sam McKegney, Tiya Miles, Joshua B. Nelson, Margaret Noodin, Craig Santos Perez, Domino Renee Perez, Alexander Pettit, Malea Powell, Dean Rader, Mark Rifkin, Channette Romero, Phillip Round, Loriene Roy, James Ruppert, Noenoe K. Silva, Christopher Teuton, Sean Kicummah Teuton, Kiara M. Vigil, Thomas Ward, Robert Warrior, Frances Washburn, Jace Weaver, and Craig Womack
Works in Progress and Forthcoming
- Why Indigenous Literatures Matter (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, forthcoming 2016)
- Imagining Otherwise: Reflections on Indigenous Belonging, Identity, and Desire
- Kinship Criticism: Indigenous Literary Expression and the Ecosocial Imaginary
Selected Scholarly Essays
- "Notes Toward a Theory of Anomaly" (GLQ 16.1-2, 2010) [pdf file]
- "'Go away, water!': Kinship Criticism and the Decolonization Imperative" (Reasoning Together, 2008) [pdf file]
- "Seeing (and Reading) Red: Intellectual Sovereignty and the Study of Native Literatures" (Indigenizing the Academy, 2004) [pdf file]
- "Renewing the Fire: Notes Toward the Liberation of English Studies" (ESC 29.1-2, 2003) [pdf file]
- "We're Not There Yet, Kemo Sabe: Positing a Future for American Indian Literary Studies" (AIQ 25.2, 2001) [pdf file]
Recommended Works (with more resources to come)
Recommended Sources for Cherokee Studies
Recommended Readings for Indigenous Speculative Fiction (rev. 1 August 2016)
Recommended Readings for the Study of Two-Spirit Lives and Literatures