Many Native American artists commemorate their history and heritage through the creation of beautiful paintings, tapestries, pottery, woven baskets, jewelry, literature and many other forms of art. Today, the Hothouse staff celebrates the following Native American writers and their works.
N. Scott Momaday
Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday’s Again the Far Morning is a combination of poetry from previous collections (“Angle of Geese” (1974), “The Gourd Dancer” (1976), “In the Presence of the Sun” (1992), and “In the Bear’s House” (1999)) and new poems. Momaday is considered one of the founders of the Native American Renaissance, and his writing focuses on Kiowa traditions and history. Momaday’s father told him Kiowa stories and sang him songs from the Kiowa oral tradition when he was a child, a memory that influences Momaday’s own literary voice. Again the Far Morning spans forty years of Momaday’s work and offers a broad overview of a complex and heterogeneous career. Momaday’s works are evocative and heartfelt, a tone Momaday consciously cultivates. In his preface to Again the Far Morning Momaday writes: “My principal objective as a poet is to write directly from my mind and heart in the traditions that are my heritage. To trade in the wonder of words and to be acquainted with those whose best expressions have sustained us, that is literature.”
~Mandy Whited, Nonfiction Board
Joy Harjo is a poet, musician and screenwriter recognized as a major voice of the 1960s-era Native American literary renaissance. Harjo believes in the power of oral tradition and uses literature readings and musical performances to express her poetry. She is also an active member of the Muscogee Tribe and is known for her strong support for women’s equality. Her best-known work is a collection of poetry called In Mad Love and War (1990), which won an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. I enjoy Harjo’s poetry because of the ways she beautifully links identity and nature and how she elegantly portrays the importance of human relationships with the natural world.
~Meredith Furgerson, Nonfiction Board Editor
Joy Harjo’s “Perhaps the World Ends Here” is an introspective poem that, through soft spoken words, makes a powerful statement about Native American culture and the significance of family ties. The poem centers around a dining room table that represents the family and the brute needs of life and personifies the dreams of the Native American people. All who eat at the table support each other and grow together like a garden. These people thrive as one body and give freely for the mutual support of their brothers and sisters. Regardless of external forces and injustice, they are able to come together as one and overcome oppression. The table is this ancestry which drives them onward and hangs as a ribbon of support and hope for them in desperate and confusing times. The table, Harjo says, “is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.” It is the beginning and end of their people and gives hope that as long as these oral traditions continue, the joy and the sorrow of their family members will intermingle beautifully. It is a sweet and hopeful poem that embraces sadness but overcomes it with the beauty of new life and the imprint left by their mothers, fathers and brothers.
~Abbi Gamm, Poetry Board
Sherman Alexie’s poem “Survivorman” is striking due to its theme of humanity in the face of disaster. It describes a man carrying another to safety over 25 miles of desert, imparting a sense of altruism that may be increasingly relevant over the next four years. The Macmillan Dictionary defines survivor as “someone or something that still exists after every other member of a group has died or been destroyed.” This definition highlights the ruthless, competitive or self-serving attributes typically associated with surviving, but Alexie contradicts this by claiming goodness to be integral to Survivorman. In his poem, both Survivorman and the man whom he carries live, however it is clear that Survivorman alone is considered the true survivor. It is the choice of compassion in the face catastrophe that defines the character’s survival.
~Madeleine McQuilling, Nonfiction Board
Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony is a postmodern novel by Leslie Marmon Silko, a Native American writer of Laguna Pueblo descent. The novel follows the story of World War II veteran Tayo, who struggles with posttraumatic stress disorder, through his journey as a mixed-race Native American, exploring the intersection of spirituality and reality. He learns to reject his socialized sense of shame and to embrace the ancient traditions of his family. This novel will be applicable to anyone who has felt marginalized in society, who has felt guilt and shame, and who feels themselves separated from the past.
~John Calvin Pierce, Poetry Board
Though published almost 20 years ago, Leslie Marmon Silko’s short story collection Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today touches on topics that are especially relevant in our current political climate: immigration and the status of minority ethnic groups. In the titular, semi-autobiographical story “Yellow Woman,” a woman from the Laguna Pueblo struggles with questions of her identity and allegiances due to her mixed ancestry. With intimate dialogue and description, the story provides a close look at the life and love of a Laguna woman and the people nearby. They all literally seek to know who each other is.
~Jeremy Huang, Poetry Board